[Evaluation of the Oral Absorption of Ester-type Prodrugs]

Yakugaku Zasshi. 2020;140(3):369-376. doi: 10.1248/yakushi.19-00225.
[Article in Japanese]


The first-pass hydrolysis of oral ester-type prodrugs in the liver and intestine is mediated mainly by hCE1 and hCE2 of the respective predominant carboxylesterase (CES) isozymes. In order to provide high blood concentrations of the parent drugs, it is preferable that prodrugs are absorbed as an intact ester in the intestine, then rapidly converted to active parent drugs by hCE1 in the liver. In the present study, we designed a prodrug of fexofenadine (FXD) as a model parent drug that is resistant to hCE2 but hydrolyzed by hCE1, utilizing the differences in catalytic characteristics of hCE1 and hCE2. In order to precisely predict the intestinal absorption of an FXD prodrug candidate, we developed a novel high-throughput system by modifying Caco-2 cells. Further, we evaluated species differences and aging effects in the intestinal and hepatic hydrolysis of prodrugs to improve the estimation of in vivo first-pass hydrolysis of ester-type prodrugs. Consequently, it was possible to design a hepatotropic prodrug utilizing the differences in tissue distribution and substrate specificity of CESs. In addition, we successfully established three useful in vitro systems for predicting the intestinal absorption of hCE1 substrate using Caco-2 cells. However, some factors involved in estimating the bioavailability of prodrugs in human, such as changes in recognition of drug transporters by esterification, and species differences of the first-pass hydrolysis, should be comprehensively considered in prodrug development.

Keywords: Caco-2 cell; carboxylesterase; oral absorption; prodrug; species difference.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Biological Availability
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases / physiology
  • Esters / administration & dosage
  • Esters / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Hydrolysis
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Isoenzymes / physiology
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Prodrugs / administration & dosage
  • Prodrugs / metabolism*
  • Species Specificity


  • Esters
  • Isoenzymes
  • Prodrugs
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases
  • CES1 protein, human