To date, the majority of therapeutic peptides and proteins have to be administered via parenteral routes, which are painful and inconvenient. In order to gain sufficient high blood concentrations after oral application, various barriers in the gastrointestinal tract have to be overcome. Apart from a poor membrane uptake and intense enzymatic degradation, this study will demonstrate that thiol–disulphide reactions are an underestimated essential part of the presystemic metabolism. Glutathione, integrative part of the antioxidant defence system in the gastrointestinal tract, may play an important role in the inactivation of orally given peptides and proteins. In order to verify this hypothesis, desmopressin which bears a single disulphide bond was used as model peptide drug. Desmopressin was incubated with GSH in various concentrations, and the extent of thiol/disulphide exchange reactions between the peptide drug and GSH was investigated in dependence on pH and ratio of reactants determined as a function of time via HPLC, LC-MS and Maldi-Tof-MS analyses.
Results showed that desmopressin is degraded by 1% reduced glutathione at pH 4 and pH 5.5. In presence of 0.01%, 0.1% and 1% of reduced glutathione 6.1%, 19.4% and 52.1% of desmopressin, respectively, were degraded. The masses of the conjugates after deconvolution measured by liquid chromatography and electrospray ionisation mass spectrometric detection were m/z 1069.67, m/z 1376.50, m/z 1683.40 and m/z 2138. These molecular masses, confirmed by Maldi-Tof-MS analysis, correspond with the masses of conjugates expected in theory. Under defined conditions, these results reveal that thiol–disulphide exchange reactions have a considerable impact on the alteration of peptide drugs and proteins.