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The release mechanism for proteins and peptides from vesicular phospholipid gels (VPGs) is very complex. Drug release proceeds via a combination of erosion of the gel and diffusion of the drug out of it. This diffusion can be retarded by a slow permeation of the drug across the lipid bilayers in the gel as well as by its direct binding or adsorption to the lipid bilayers. Finally, the viscosity and homogeneity of the formulation may affect the release behavior. So far a direct correlation between one of these parameters and the release kinetics is not possible. In the present study, we aimed to investigate the contribution of drug-membrane interactions to the release kinetics of exenatide from differently composed VPGs (POPC, POPG and mixtures of both). To this end, in vitro release of exenatide as well as in vitro release of the phospholipids was monitored. Binding affinities were determined by microscale thermophoresis (MST). The sustained release behavior of exenatide could not simply be correlated to high viscosity of the VPG formulation. Release of exenatide from VPGs of anionic membranes containing POPG proceeded with a half-life of the order of 5 days and it seems to be controlled by the erosion of the gel. Its rate is unaffected by the initial pH inside the gel, independently of the strong impact of pH on exenatide binding to the membrane. At pH 4.5, exenatide is cationic and binds to membranes containing anionic POPG with a high affinity (K ≈ 10-30µM). No high affinity membrane binding of exenatide is detected in this at pH 7.4, where exenatide is anionic, and to zwitterionic membranes composed of POPC. Exenatide release from the latter has a significantly longer half-life of 30to55 days. That means, these VPGs are much more resistant to erosion and show a very slow diffusional release. In this case, diffusion should be slowed down by the barrier function of the membranes rather than membrane affinity. In conclusion, erosion of the VPG matrix and membrane permeability of the drug are the major parameters influencing the release of exenatide from VPGs of POPC-POPG, whereas drug binding to the membranes had a minor effect only.
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