Development of a population pharmacokinetic model to predict brain distribution and dopamine D2 receptor occupancy of raclopride in non-anesthetized rat

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Raclopride is a selective antagonist of the dopamine D2 receptor. It is one of the most frequently used in vivo D2 tracers (at low doses) for assessing drug-induced receptor occupancy (RO) in animals and humans. It is also commonly used as a pharmacological blocker (at high doses) to occupy the available D2 receptors and antagonize the action of dopamine or drugs on D2 in preclinical studies. The aims of this study were to comprehensively evaluate its pharmacokinetic (PK) profiles in different brain compartments and to establish a PK-RO model that could predict the brain distribution and RO of raclopride in the freely moving rat using a LC−MS based approach.


Rats (n = 24) received a 10-min IV infusion of non-radiolabeled raclopride (1.61 μmol/kg, i.e. 0.56 mg/kg). Plasma and the brain tissues of striatum (with high density of D2 receptors) and cerebellum (with negligible amount of D2 receptors) were collected. Additional microdialysis experiments were performed in some rats (n = 7) to measure the free drug concentration in the extracellular fluid of the striatum and cerebellum. Raclopride concentrations in all samples were analyzed by LC−MS. A population PK-RO model was constructed in NONMEM to describe the concentration-time profiles in the unbound plasma, brain extracellular fluid and brain tissue compartments and to estimate the RO based on raclopride-D2 receptor binding kinetics.


In plasma raclopride showed a rapid distribution phase followed by a slower elimination phase. The striatum tissue concentrations were consistently higher than that of cerebellum tissue throughout the whole experimental period (10−h) due to higher non-specific tissue binding and D2 receptor binding in the striatum. Model-based simulations accurately predicted the literature data on rat plasma PK, brain tissue PK and D2 RO at different time points after intravenous or subcutaneous administration of raclopride at tracer dose (RO <10%), sub-pharmacological dose (RO 10%−30%) and pharmacological dose (RO >30%).


For the first time a predictive model that could describe the quantitative in vivo relationship between dose, PK and D2 RO of raclopride in non-anesthetized rat was established. The PK-RO model could facilitate the selection of optimal dose and dosing time when raclopride is used as tracer or as pharmacological blocker in various rat studies. The LC−MS based approach, which doses and quantifies a non-radiolabeled tracer, could be useful in evaluating the systemic disposition and brain kinetics of tracers.

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