Fluoroquinolones: A micro-species equilibrium in the protonation of amphoteric compounds

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The knowledge of the speciation of fluoroquinolones is of great actuality for the implications on the activity, bioavailability and pharmacokinetics. Literature reports a number of contrasting evaluations on the existence of tautomeric forms of mono-protonated species, described by a set of protonation micro-constants. Here the protonation sequence and the related protonation constants of four representative molecules are evaluated by a combined potentiometric-spectrophotometric method. The experimental observations necessary to differentiate between a protonation scheme represented by macro-constants alone, and the one that requires the introduction of a micro-protonation scheme, are clearly delineated based on a careful analysis of experimental data and of simulated models. The role of the medium was investigated and UV–vis spectra in water- methanol solution were analyzed. The existence of the zwitterionic species alone at physiological pH in water, and an increase of the relative amount of the neutral species with the lipophilicity of the medium were remarked. This surely affects the bioavailability of FQs, with the increase of the neutral species when the molecules approach the local lipophilic environment close to the cellular membranes. NMR studies allowed the attribution of the protonation sites of the different forms. Quantum chemical evaluation of all the possible existent forms with different protonation degrees and in different sites strongly substantiates the experimental results. The study of the relevant frontier molecular orbitals completed the detailed theoretical characterization of the species.

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