Measurement and analysis of unbound drug concentrations

Clin Pharmacokinet. 1996 Jun;30(6):445-62. doi: 10.2165/00003088-199630060-00003.


The plasma protein binding of drugs has been shown to have significant effects on numerous aspects of clinical pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. In many clinical situations, measurement of the total drug concentration does not provide the needed information concerning the unbound fraction of drug in plasma which is available for distribution, elimination, and pharmacodynamic action. Thus, accurate determination of unbound plasma drug concentrations is essential in the therapeutic monitoring of drugs. Many methodologies are available for determining the extent of plasma protein binding of drugs, however, in the clinical evaluation of drug therapy, equilibrium dialysis and ultrafiltration are the most routinely utilised methods. Both of these methods have been proven to be experimentally sound and to yield adequate protein binding data. Furthermore, the characterisation of the interactions between drug and protein molecules is essential for the assessment of the pharmacokinetic implications of drug-protein binding. Protein binding parameters which characterise the affinity of the drug-protein association, the number of classes of binding sites, the number of binding sites per class or protein and the binding capacity are useful for predicting unbound drug concentrations. Simple graphical methods have often been used to obtain protein binding parameters, but these methods have limitations and are not useful for drugs with more than 1 class of binding site. Therefore, the fitting of protein binding models which characterise the drug-protein binding interaction for experimental data is the preferred method of calculating binding parameters. Using the appropriate model, values for binding parameters are typically estimated by using nonlinear least-squares regression analysis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Proteins / metabolism*
  • Computer Simulation
  • Humans
  • Linear Models*
  • Microdialysis / methods*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / metabolism*
  • Protein Binding
  • Ultrafiltration / methods*


  • Blood Proteins
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations