Phospholipid-based prodrugs for colon-targeted drug delivery: Experimental study and in-silico simulations

Milica Markovic, Arik Dahan, Shahar Keinan, Igor Kurnikov, Aaron Aponick, Ellen M. Zimmermann, Shimon Ben-Shabat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In ulcerative colitis (UC), the inflammation is localized in the colon, and one of the successful strategies for colon-targeting drug delivery is the prodrug approach. In this work, we present a novel phospholipid (PL)-based prodrug approach, as a tool for colonic drug targeting in UC. We aim to use the phospholipase A2 (PLA2), an enzyme that is overexpressed in the inflamed colonic tissues of UC patients, as the PL-prodrug activating enzyme, to accomplish the liberation of the parent drug from the prodrug complex at the specific diseased tissue(s). Different linker lengths between the PL and the drug moiety can dictate the rate of activation by PLA2, and subsequently determine the amount of free drugs at the site of action. The feasibility of this approach was studied with newly synthesized PL-Fmoc (fluorenylmethyloxycarbonyl) conjugates, using Fmoc as a model compound for testing our hypothesis. In vitro incubation with bee venom PLA2 demonstrated that a 7-carbon linker between the PL and Fmoc has higher activation rate than a 5-carbon linker. 4-fold higher colonic expression of PLA2 was demonstrated in colonic mucosa of colitis-induced rats when compared to healthy animals, validating our hypothesis of a colitis-targeting prodrug approach. Next, a novel molecular dynamics (MD) simulation was developed for PL-based prodrugs containing clinically relevant drugs. PL-methotrexate conjugate with 6-carbon linker showed the highest extent of PLA2-mediated activation, whereas shorter linkers were activated to a lower extent. In conclusion, this work demonstrates that for carefully designed PL-drug conjugates, PLA2 overexpression in inflamed colonic tissues can be used as prodrug-activating enzyme and drug targeting strategy, including insights into the activation mechanisms in a PLA2 binding site.

Original languageEnglish
Article number186
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Apr 2019


  • Colon-targeted drug delivery
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Phospholipase A
  • Prodrug approach
  • Ulcerative colitis

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmaceutical Science


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