Pharmaceutical Research

, Volume 13, Issue 11, pp 1686–1692

Chitosans as Absorption Enhancers for Poorly Absorbable Drugs. 1: Influence of Molecular Weight and Degree of Acetylation on Drug Transport Across Human Intestinal Epithelial (Caco-2) Cells

  • Nicolaas G. M. Schipper
  • Kjell M. Vårum
  • Per Artursson

DOI: 10.1023/A:1016444808000

Cite this article as:
Schipper, N.G.M., Vårum, K.M. & Artursson, P. Pharm Res (1996) 13: 1686. doi:10.1023/A:1016444808000


Purpose. Chitosan has recently been demonstrated to effectively enhance the absorption of hydrophilic drugs such as peptides and proteins across nasal and intestinal epithelia (1–3). In this study, the effect of the chemical composition and molecular weight of chitosans on epithelial permeability and toxicity was investigated using monolayers of human intestinal epithelial Caco-2 cells as a model epithelium.

Methods. Eight chitosans varying in degree of acetylation (DA) and molecular weight were studied. The incompletely absorbed hydrophilic marker molecule 14C-mannitol was used as a model drug to assess absorption enhancement. Changes in intracellular dehydrogenase activity and cellular morphology were used to assess toxicity.

Results. Chitosans with a low DA (1 and 15%) were active as absorption enhancers at low and high molecular weights. However, these chitosans displayed a clear dose-dependent toxicity. Chitosans with DAs of 35 and 49% enhanced the transport of 14C-mannitol at high molecular weights only, with low toxicity. One chitosan (DA = 35%; MW = 170kD) was found to have especially advantageous properties such as an early onset of action, very low toxicity, and a flat dose-absorption enhancement response relationship.

Conclusions. The structural features of chitosans determining absorption enhancement are not correlated with those determining toxicity, which makes it possible to select chitosans with maximal effect on absorption and minimal toxicity.

mucosal permeability oral absorption cell culture structure-activity 

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicolaas G. M. Schipper
    • 1
  • Kjell M. Vårum
    • 2
  • Per Artursson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PharmaceuticsUppsala University, Biomedical CenterUppsalaSweden. To whom correspondence should be addressed
  2. 2.Norwegian Biopolymer Laboratory (NOBIPOL), Dept. of BiotechnologyThe Norwegian Institute of Technology (NTH), University of TrondheimTrondheimNorway

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