Determinants of the plasma protein binding of theophylline in health

Br J Clin Pharmacol. 1983 Apr;15(4):399-405. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2125.1983.tb01521.x.


1 The plasma protein binding of theophylline was determined after addition of [14C]-theophylline (15 micrograms/ml) to plasma from 24 healthy drug-free volunteers and equilibrium dialysis for 2 h at 37 degrees C. 2 The percentage of drug unbound was 60.0% +/- 2.2% (s.d.) with very little variation between individuals. The binding ratio of theophylline was not significantly related to the plasma albumin or alpha 1-acid glycoprotein (AAG) concentrations but was significantly, although weakly, negatively related to the logarithm of the non-esterified fatty acid concentration (NEFA) (r = 0.443, P less than 0.05). 3 Intravenous administration of heparin (1000 units) caused a significant rise in plasma NEFA concentration and in the percentage of drug unbound in plasma after equilibrium dialysis. 4 In human serum albumin solutions, the binding ratio of theophylline was significantly related to the albumin concentration and at the albumin concentration seen in the 24 normal subjects, the percentage of drug unbound was almost identical. Addition of AAG in physiological concentrations did not enhance theophylline binding but oleic acid, and to a lesser extent palmitic acid, reduced binding significantly. 5 The percentage of theophylline unbound in plasma varied markedly with pH so that at pH7 the percentage unbound was 52% greater than at pH 8. There was no evidence of concentration dependence of binding up to 140 micrograms/ml theophylline. 6 Theophylline appears to bind almost exclusively to albumin and its plasma protein binding varies little in healthy subjects, showing no concentration-dependence over the therapeutic range of concentrations. The binding is affected by pH and by NEFA concentration, however, and these factors may be of greater importance in disease states. Caution should be employed in the use of heparin in studies of plasma protein binding of theophylline.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carbon Radioisotopes / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / blood
  • Heparin / administration & dosage
  • Heparin / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oleic Acids / pharmacology
  • Orosomucoid / analysis
  • Palmitic Acids / pharmacology
  • Protein Binding
  • Serum Albumin / metabolism*
  • Theophylline / blood*
  • Theophylline / pharmacology


  • Carbon Radioisotopes
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Oleic Acids
  • Orosomucoid
  • Palmitic Acids
  • Serum Albumin
  • Heparin
  • Theophylline