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Physicochemical, Pharmacological and Pharmacokinetic Properties of the Zwitterionic Antihistamines Cetirizine and Levocetirizine

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Cetirizine, marketed as a racemic mixture containing both levocetirizine and dextrocetirizine, is a member of the second generation H1 antihistamines clinically used for the treatment of symptoms associated with seasonal allergic rhinitis. Recently, its single R-enantiomer levocetirizine has been approved by the FDA as the newest antihistamine. Cetirizine is a piperazine derivative related to the first generation H1 antagonist hydroxyzine, and is the major metabolite in the blood circulation after hydroxyzine administration in humans. The acid functionality of cetirizine in combination with one of the basic nitrogens of piperazine ring makes this compound a very unique zwitterion. The molecular structure of cetirizine allows its carboxylic group to interact with the basic nitrogen via folded conformers, therefore, it possesses relatively high lipophilicity at physiological pH (LogD = 1.5). While both cetirizine and hydroxyzine possess high affinity at the H1 receptor, the R-configured levocetirizine has much slower dissociation rate from the H1 receptor than Rhydroxyzine, making it an insurmountable antagonist. In addition, the pharmacokinetics of cetirizine significantly differs from those of the basic and lipophilic hydroxyzine. For example, cetirizine has much lower CNS penetration than hydroxyzine, which may be explained by the zwitterionic structure of cetirizine and its P-glycoprotein activity. Cetirizine exhibits high intestinal absorption in humans and its oral bioavailability is estimated to be greater than 70%. Very importantly, cetirizine, especially levocetirizine, has a negligible interaction with the liver enzymes, and is mainly excreted in the urine as the parent despite its high plasma protein binding (88∼96%). The recommended dose of levocetirizine is 5 mg once daily, while its pharmacokinetic half-life is about 7 h in humans. This review will focus on the physicochemical, pharmacological and pharmacokinetic properties of cetirizine and levocetirizine in comparison with those of hydroxyzine. The zwitterionic cetirizine displays distinct advantages over the basic hydroxyzine in several categories such as slow receptor dissociation rate, high selectivity, negligible liver enzyme interaction and low CNS penetration. Therefore, cetirizine, or its single isomer levocetirizine, might serve a good example for medicinal chemists to design zwitterionic drugs from a basic, acidic or neutral lead molecule for peripheral biological targets.
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Keywords: Cetirizine; P-glycoprotein; brain penetration; disposition and medicinal chemistry; lipophilicity; plasma protein binding; zwitterion

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Medicinal Chemistry, Neurocrine Biosciences, Inc., 12790 El Camino Real, San Diego,CA 92130, USA.

Publication date: 01 September 2008

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