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The orally active angiotensin-converting inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) such as captopril and enalapril represent a significant therapeutic advance in the treatment of hypertension and congestive heart failure. Enalapril differs from captopril in several respects. It is a prodrug converted by hepatic esterolysis to the active (but more poorly absorbed) diacid, enalaprilat. Enalaprilat is more potent than captopril, more slowly eliminated and does not possess a sulfhydryl (SH) group.Enalapril was rapidly followed by a number of newer ACE inhibitors, the majority of which are similar to enalapril in that they are prodrugs, converted by hepatic esterolysis to a major active but poorly absorbed diacid metabolite. In one case (delapril) there are 2 active metabolites; in another (alacepril) the prodrug is converted in vivo to captopril. Lisinopril is an exception in that it is an enalaprilat-like diacid but with acceptable oral bioavailability, so that the prodrug route is not employed. The newer ACE inhibitors are at widely different stages of development, and it is not yet clear how many will reach regular clinical use. Of these newer drugs, lisinopril is the longest established and is the subject of the widest published literature. For a number there is as yet little published pharmacokinetic information.A variety of assay methods have been employed to characterise the pharmacokinetics of the ACE inhibitors, including enzymatic techniques, radioimmunoassay and chromatography. The peak plasma concentrations of the prodrugs are generally observed at around 1 hour and those of the diacid metabolites at about 2 to 4 hours. However, there is considerable variation within and between drugs, with benazepril and benazeprilat reaching peak concentrations early and enalapril and enalaprilat typical of later times to peak. Absorption of the active diacids is generally poor, and moderate (typically 30 to 70%) for the prodrugs. The bioavailability of lisinopril is about 25%.It is difficult to talk meaningfully about half-lives of the active drugs. The declines in their plasma concentrations are polyphasic and, if analytical sensitivity allows, active drug may be found at 48 hours or more following administration. This may reflect binding to ACE in plasma. Half-lives of accumulation are of the order of 12 hours; protein binding varies from little (lisinopril) to 90% (benazeprilat). Elimination is mostly renal but there may be biliary elimination for some, such as benazeprilat and fosinopril. The half-lives of the prodrugs are short.Impaired renal function decreases the elimination rate of the diacids. The largest effects on plasma concentrations are associated with severe renal impairment (glomerular filtration rate; < 30 ml/min). Increasing renal impairment is associated with longer times to peak of the diacids. Lisinopril and enalaprilat have been shown to be dialysable. Increasing age has variable effects, but is often accompanied by a decreased rate of elimination related to renal function, best demonstrated in population pharmacokinetic studies. Congestive heart failure may be associated with higher plasma concentrations but the pharmacokinetics of these agents in uncomplicated essential hypertension appear to be normal. The effects of hepatic impairment have been little studied, but severe hepatic impairment would be expected to result in impaired esterolysis of the prodrugs.