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The Evolution of Population Pharmacokinetic Models to Describe the Enterohepatic Recycling of Mycophenolic Acid in Solid Organ Transplantation and Autoimmune Disease


With the increasing use of mycophenolic acid (MPA) as an immunosuppressant in solid organ transplantation and in treating autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, the need for strategies to optimize therapy with this agent has become increasingly apparent. This need is largely based on MPA’s significant between-subject and between-occasion (within-subject) pharmacokinetic variability. While there is a strong relationship between MPA exposure and effect, the relationship between drug dose, plasma concentration and exposure (area under the concentration-time curve [AUC]) is very complex and remains to be completely defined. Population pharmacokinetic models using various approaches have been proposed over the past 10 years to further evaluate the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic behaviour of MPA. These models have evolved from simple one-compartment linear iterations to complex multicompartment versions that try to include various factors, which may influence MPA’s pharmacokinetic variability, such as enterohepatic recycling and pharmacogenetic polymorphisms.

There have been major advances in the understanding of the roles transport mechanisms, metabolizing and other enzymes, drug-drug interactions and pharmacogenetic polymorphisms play in MPA’s pharmacokinetic variability. Given these advances, the usefulness of empirical-based models and the limitations of nonlinear mixed-effects modelling in developing mechanism-based models need to be considered and discussed. If the goal is to individualize MPA dosing, it needs to be determined whether factors which may contribute significantly to variability can be utilized in the population pharmacokinetic models. Some pharmacokinetic models developed to date show promise in being able to describe the impact of physiological processes such as enterohepatic recycling.

Most studies have historically been based on retrospective data or poorly designed studies which do not take these factors into consideration. Modelling typically has been undertaken using non-controlled therapeutic drug monitoring data, which do not have the information content to support the development of complex mechanistic models. Only a few recent modelling approaches have moved away from empiricism and have included mechanisms considered important, such as enterohepatic recycling. It is recognized that well thought-out sampling schedules allow for better evaluation of the pharmacokinetic data. It is not possible to undertake complex absorption modelling with very few samples being obtained during the absorption phase (which has often been the case). It is important to utilize robust AUC monitoring which is now being propagated in the latest consensus guideline on MPA therapeutic drug monitoring.

This review aims to explore the biological factors that contribute to the clinical pharmacokinetics of MPA and how these have been introduced in the development of population pharmacokinetic models. An overview of the processes involved in the enterohepatic recycling of MPA will be provided. This will summarize the components that complicate absorption and recycling to influence MPA exposure such as biotransformation, transport, bile physiology and gut flora. Already published population pharmacokinetic models will be examined, and the evolution of these models away from empirical approaches to more mechanism-based models will be discussed.

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The authors would like to acknowledge financial support from the following NIH grants: 5T32AR007594-15 (CMTS), 5K24HD050387-04 and 5U10HD037249-10 (TF, AAV). All authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.

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Correspondence to Professor Alexander A. Vinks.

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Sherwin, C.M.T., Fukuda, T., Brunner, H.I. et al. The Evolution of Population Pharmacokinetic Models to Describe the Enterohepatic Recycling of Mycophenolic Acid in Solid Organ Transplantation and Autoimmune Disease. Clin Pharmacokinet 50, 1–24 (2011). https://doi.org/10.2165/11536640-000000000-00000

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  • Absorption Model
  • Mycophenolic Acid
  • Population Pharmacokinetic Model
  • Enterohepatic Recirculation
  • Enterohepatic Recycling