In vitro and in silico tools to assess extent of cellular uptake and lysosomal sequestration of respiratory drugs in human alveolar macrophages

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Ayse Ufuk
  • Frauke Assmus
  • Laura Francis
  • Jonathan Plumb
  • Valeriu Damian
  • Michael Gertz


Accumulation of respiratory drugs in human alveolar macrophages (AMs) has not been extensively studied in vitro and in silico despite its potential impact on therapeutic efficacy and/or occurrence of phospholipidosis. The current study aims to characterize the accumulation and subcellular distribution of drugs with respiratory indication in human AMs and to develop an in silico mechanistic AM model to predict lysosomal accumulation of investigated drugs. The data set included 9 drugs previously investigated in rat AM cell line NR8383. Cell-to-unbound medium concentration ratio (Kp,cell) of all drugs (5 μM) was determined to assess the magnitude of intracellular accumulation. The extent of lysosomal sequestration in freshly isolated human AMs from multiple donors (n = 5) was investigated for clarithromycin and imipramine (positive control) using an indirect in vitro method (±20 mM ammonium chloride, NH4Cl). The AM cell parameters and drug physicochemical data were collated to develop an in silico mechanistic AM model. Three in silico models differing in their description of drug membrane partitioning were evaluated; model (1) relied on octanol–water partitioning of drugs, model (2) used in vitro data to account for this process, and model (3) predicted membrane partitioning by incorporating AM phospholipid fractions. In vitro Kp,cell ranged >200-fold for respiratory drugs, with the highest accumulation seen for clarithromycin. A good agreement in Kp,cell was observed between human AMs and NR8383 (2.45-fold bias), highlighting NR8383 as a potentially useful in vitro surrogate tool to characterize drug accumulation in AMs. The mean Kp,cell of clarithromycin (81, CV = 51%) and imipramine (963, CV = 54%) were reduced in the presence of NH4Cl by up to 67% and 81%, respectively, suggesting substantial contribution of lysosomal sequestration and intracellular binding in the accumulation of these drugs in human AMs. The in vitro data showed variability in drug accumulation between individual human AM donors due to possible differences in lysosomal abundance, volume, and phospholipid content, which may have important clinical implications. Consideration of drug–acidic phospholipid interactions significantly improved the performance of the in silico models; use of in vitro Kp,cell obtained in the presence of NH4Cl as a surrogate for membrane partitioning (model (2)) captured the variability in clarithromycin and imipramine Kp,cell observed in vitro and showed the best ability to predict correctly positive and negative lysosomotropic properties. The developed mechanistic AM model represents a useful in silico tool to predict lysosomal and cellular drug concentrations based on drug physicochemical data and system specific properties, with potential application to other cell types.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Pharmaceutics
Issue number4
Early online date2 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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