The weak base antipsychotic clozapine is the most effective medication for treating refractory schizophrenia. The brain-to-plasma concentration of unbound clozapine is greater than unity, indicating transporter-mediated uptake, which has been insufficiently studied. This is important, because it could have a significant impact on clozapine's efficacy, drug-drug interaction, and safety profile. A major limitation of clozapine's use is the risk of clozapine-induced agranulocytosis/granulocytopenia (CIAG), which is a rare but severe hematological adverse drug reaction. We first studied the uptake of clozapine into human brain endothelial cells (hCMEC/D3). Clozapine uptake into cells was consistent with a carrier-mediated process, which was time-dependent and saturable ( Vmax = 3299 pmol/million cells/min, Km = 35.9 μM). The chemical inhibitors lamotrigine, quetiapine, olanzapine, prazosin, verapamil, indatraline, and chlorpromazine reduced the uptake of clozapine by up to 95%. This could in part explain the in vivo interactions observed in rodents or humans for these compounds. An extensive set of studies utilizing transporter-overexpressing cell lines and siRNA-mediated transporter knockdown in hCMEC/D3 cells showed that clozapine was not a substrate of OCT1 (SLC22A1), OCT3 (SLC22A3), OCTN1 (SLC22A4), OCTN2 (SLC22A5), ENT1 (SLC29A1), ENT2 (SLC29A2), and ENT4/PMAT (SLC29A4). In a recent genome-wide analysis, the hepatic uptake transporters SLCO1B1 (OATP1B1) and SLCO1B3 (OATP1B3) were identified as additional candidate transporters. We therefore also investigated clozapine transport into OATP1B-transfected cells and found that clozapine was neither a substrate nor an inhibitor of OATP1B1 and OATP1B3. In summary, we have identified a carrier-mediated process for clozapine uptake into brain, which may be partly responsible for clozapine's high unbound accumulation in the brain and its drug-drug interaction profile. Cellular clozapine uptake is independent from currently known drug transporters, and thus, molecular identification of the clozapine transporter will help to understand clozapine's efficacy and safety profile.
Keywords: SLC transporters; agranulocytosis; blood−brain barrier; clozapine; drug transport; organic anion transporter; organic cation transporter; schizophrenia.