The human intestinal epithelial cell line Caco-2; pharmacological and pharmacokinetic applications

Cell Biol Toxicol. 1995 Aug;11(3-4):187-94. doi: 10.1007/BF00756522.


The gastrointestinal tract remains the most popular and acceptable route of administration for drugs. It offers the great advantage of convenience and many compounds are well absorbed and thereby provide acceptable plasma concentration-time profiles. Currently there is considerable interest from the pharmaceutical industry in development of cell culture systems that would mimic the intestinal mucosa in order to evaluate strategies for investigating and/or enhancing drug absorption. The intestinal epithelial cells of primary interest, from the standpoint of drug absorption and metabolism, are the villus cells, which are fully differentiated cells. An in vitro cell culture system consisting of a monolayer of viable, polarized and fully differentiated villus cells, similar to that found in the small intestine, would be a valuable tool in the study of drug and nutrient transport and metabolism. The Caco-2 cell line, which exhibits a well-differentiated brush border on the apical surface and tight junctions, and expresses typical small-intestinal microvillus hydrolases and nutrient transporters, has proven to be the most popular in vitro model (a) to rapidly assess the cellular permeability of potential drug candidates, (b) to elucidate pathways of drug transport (e.g., passive versus carrier mediated), (c) to assess formulation strategies designed to enhance membrane permeability, (d) to determine the optimal physicochemical characteristics for passive diffusion of drugs, and (e) to assess potential toxic effects of drug candidates or formulation components on this biological barrier. Since differentiated Caco-2 cells express various cytochrome P450 isoforms and phase II enzymes such as UDP-glucuronosyltransferases, sulfotransferases and glutathione-S-transferases, this model could also allow the study of presystemic drug metabolism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Caco-2 Cells / drug effects*
  • Caco-2 Cells / metabolism*
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / drug effects*
  • Intestinal Mucosa* / drug effects
  • Intestinal Mucosa* / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations* / metabolism


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations