Artemisinin and its derivatives have been widely used for treatment of malaria and the therapeutic targets are considered within the red blood cells. In the recent studies on the erythrocytes' uptake of artemisinin-derivatives in vitro, applying the radioisotope-labeled technology, it was trying to predict the in vivo disposition properties, but different distribution results were revealed from a preliminary study in one human. The pharmacokinetic differences among blood cells and plasma still remain unclear. To explore the therapeutic related pharmacokinetics and compare the in vitro-in vivo blood distribution in rats, an improving blood sample preparation and LC–MS/MS detection method was developed and successfully validated. The lower limit of quantification was smaller than the previous studies.
In the in vitro blood distribution studies, the content ratios from blood cells to plasma were compared in the concentrations from 20 ng/mL to 1000 ng/mL. Such ratios were determined to be 1.1–1.6 for artemisinin, 0.9–1.2 for artemether, and around 0.7 for dihydroartemisinin. In the oral administration pharmacokinetic studies in rats, the concentration ratios from blood cells to plasma were from high (2.6–3.6) to medium (1.3–2.5), and low (0.5–1.5) for artemisinin, artemether, and dihydroartemisinin respectively in all measuring time points, displaying the similar affinity order toward blood cells in artemisinin > artemether > dihydroartemisinin as the in vitro measurements.
The dosages of 10 mg/kg for intravenous administrations of artemisinin and 200 mg/kg for oral administrations of artemisinin or artemether were used for the pharmacokinetic study in rats. The geometric mean exposures (AUC(0-t)) of artemisinin, artemether and dihydroartemisinin in blood cells were determined to be 2.6 folds, 1.7 folds, or 1.2 folds greater than those in plasma, respectively. Referring to the in vitro distribution, the AUC(0–t) ratios from the blood cells measurements to the plasma measurements of these three antimalarial drugs were also in a similar trend as the in vitro distribution measurements. Furthermore, the half-life (t1/2) of artemether in blood cells was even longer than that in plasma, while the clearance of artemisinin, artemether, or dihydroartemisinin in blood cells was slower than that in plasma. Particularly, it was found that the concentrations of artemisinin and artemether were presented in blood cells over longer time period than in plasma above their antimalarial IC50, which might result from both the affinity toward blood cells and the drugs clearance differences between blood cells and plasma.
These results were indicated that the exposures and pharmacokinetic properties in the whole blood or the blood cells should be taken into account for the drug candidates with higher distribution affinity toward blood cells especially for the antimalarial drugs.