Determinants of benzodiazepine brain uptake: lipophilicity versus binding affinity

R. M. Arendt, D. J. Greenblatt, D. C. Liebisch, M. D. Luu, S. M. Paul

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Factors influencing brain uptake of benzodiazepine derivatives were evaluated in adult Sprague Dawley rats (n=8-10 per drug). Animals received single intraperitoneal doses of alprazolam, triazolam, lorazepam, flunitrazepam, diazepam, midazolam, desmethyldiazepam, or clobazam. Concentrations of each drug (and metabolites) in whole brain and serum 1 h after dosage were determined by gas chromatography. Serum free fraction was measured by equilibrium dialysis. In vitro binding affinity (apparent Ki) of each compound was estimated based on displacement of tritiated flunitrazepam in washed membrane preparations from rat cerebral cortex. Lipid solubility of each benzodiazepine was estimated using the reverse-phase liquid chromatographic (HPLC) retention index at physiologic pH. There was no significant relation between brain:total serum concentration ratio and either HPLC retention (r=0.18) or binding Ki (r=-0.34). Correction of uptake ratios for free as opposed to total serum concentration yielded a highly significant correlation with HPLC retention (r=0.78, P<0.005). However, even the corrected ratio was not correlated with binding Ki (r=-0.22). Thus a benzodiazepine's capacity to diffuse from systemic blood into brain tissue is much more closely associated with the physico-chemical property of lipid solubility than with specific affinity. Unbound rather than total serum or plasma concentration most accurately reflects the quantity of drug available for diffusion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)72-76
Number of pages5
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1987


  • Benzodiazepines
  • Binding affinity
  • Brain uptake
  • Lipid solubility
  • Metabolites
  • Pharmacokinetics


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