First-pass elimination. Basic concepts and clinical consequences

Clin Pharmacokinet. 1984 Jan-Feb;9(1):1-25. doi: 10.2165/00003088-198409010-00001.


First-pass elimination takes place when a drug is metabolised between its site of administration and the site of sampling for measurement of drug concentration. Clinically, first-pass metabolism is important when the fraction of the dose administered that escapes metabolism is small and variable. The liver is usually assumed to be the major site of first-pass metabolism of a drug administered orally, but other potential sites are the gastrointestinal tract, blood, vascular endothelium, lungs, and the arm from which venous samples are taken. Bioavailability, defined as the ratio of the areas under the blood concentration-time curves, after extra- and intravascular drug administration (corrected for dosage if necessary), is often used as a measure of the extent of first-pass metabolism. When several sites of first-pass metabolism are in series, the bioavailability is the product of the fractions of drug entering the tissue that escape loss at each site. The extent of first-pass metabolism in the liver and intestinal wall depends on a number of physiological factors. The major factors are enzyme activity, plasma protein and blood cell binding, and gastrointestinal motility. Models that describe the dependence of bioavailability on changes in these physiological variables have been developed for drugs subject to first-pass metabolism only in the liver. Two that have been applied widely are the 'well-stirred' and 'parallel tube' models. Discrimination between the 2 models may be performed under linear conditions in which all pharmacokinetic parameters are independent of concentration and time. The predictions of the models are similar when bioavailability is large but differ dramatically when bioavailability is small. The 'parallel tube' model always predicts a much greater change in bioavailability than the 'well-stirred' model for a given change in drug-metabolising enzyme activity, blood flow, or fraction of drug unbound. Many clinically important drugs undergo considerable first-pass metabolism after an oral dose. Drugs in this category include alprenolol, amitriptyline, dihydroergotamine, 5-fluorouracil, hydralazine, isoprenaline (isoproterenol), lignocaine (lidocaine), lorcainide, pethidine (meperidine), mercaptopurine, metoprolol, morphine, neostigmine, nifedipine, pentazocine and propranolol. One major therapeutic implication of extensive first-pass metabolism is that much larger oral doses than intravenous doses are required to achieve equivalent plasma concentrations. For some drugs, extensive first-pass metabolism precludes their use as oral agents (e. g. lignocaine, naloxone and glyceryl trinitrate).(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Biological Availability
  • Food
  • Humans
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver Circulation / drug effects
  • Liver Diseases / metabolism
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Skin Absorption


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations