Development and validation of a quantification method for cucurbitacins E and I in rat plasma: Application to population pharmacokinetic studies

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Cucurbitacin E is a potential drug candidate due to its anticancer activity, recognition of its molecular targets, and synergism with other drugs used for cancer treatment. However, the use of cucurbitacin E in clinical practice is not possible because of important knowledge gaps in its preclinical and clinical pharmacokinetic characteristics. Cucurbitacin E is hydrolyzed to cucurbitacin I in plasma and in human liver microsomes. The aim of this study was to evaluate the population pharmacokinetics of cucurbitacin E and of its metabolite cucurbitacin I in rats. The method for the sequential analysis of cucurbitacins E and I in rat plasma was developed using LC–MS/MS. Plasma aliquots of 50 μL were deproteinized with acetonitrile and clobazam was added as internal standard. The extracts were injected into an RP-18 column and eluted with a mobile phase consisting of a mixture of acetonitrile:water:methanol (32:35:33, v/v/v). The method was precise and accurate, showing linearity in the range of 1–100 ng cucurbitacin E/mL plasma and of 0.4–200 ng cucurbitacin I/mL plasma. The method was applied to the pharmacokinetic evaluation of cucurbitacin E administered intravenously to male Wistar rats (1 mg/kg). Serial blood samples were collected up to 24 h after administration. The plasma concentrations of cucurbitacin E were quantified up to 16 h, while the plasma concentrations of cucurbitacin I remained below the limit of quantification. A population pharmacokinetic model was developed for cucurbitacin E using the NONMEM program, with adequate goodness of fit and predictive performance. The following pharmacokinetic parameters were obtained: release time of 0.45 h, volume of distribution of 27.22 L, clearance of 4.13 L/h, and elimination half-life of 4.57 h.

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