The growth of knowledge in the field of the pharmacokinetics of prednisolone/prednisone has been slow for several reasons. First, convenient and specific methods for measuring these steroids only became available with the development of high performance liquid chromatographic methods. Secondly, prednisolone is nonlinearly bound to transcortin and albumin: since the unbound concentrations of prednisolone are biologically relevant, it was necessary to determine the free fraction in each plasma sample. Thirdly, due to the short half-life of prednisolone no steady-state is achieved, and therefore area under the concentration-time curve needed to be determined in all studies. Fourthly, prednisolone and prednisone are interconvertible and prednisolone is given intravenously as an ester prodrug, features which created controversies about the correct interpretation of pharmacokinetic results. Finally, the total body clearances of total and (to a lesser degree) of unbound prednisolone increase with increasing concentrations of prednisolone. Therefore, in order to compare pharmacokinetic results between different subjects, standardised doses had to be administered. The investigations performed so far have revealed that: (1) the dose-dependent pharmacokinetics partly explain the clinical observation that an alternate-day regimen with prednisone yields fewer biological effects; (2) the interconversion of prednisone into prednisolone is not a limiting factor, even in patients with severely impaired liver function; (3) hypoproteinaemia per se does not cause increased unbound concentrations of prednisolone in vivo; (4) patients with liver failure, renal failure or a renal transplant, subjects older than 65 years, women on estrogen-containing oral contraceptive steroids or subjects taking ketoconazole have increased unbound concentrations of prednisolone-whereas hyperthyroid patients, some patients with Crohn's disease, subjects taking microsomal liver enzyme-inducing agents or patients on intravenous prednisolone phthalate (instead of prednisolone phosphate) or on some brands of enteric coated prednisolone tablets have decreased concentrations of prednisolone. The biological relevance of the altered pharmacokinetics is supported in part by altered clinical effects and altered effects on cellular immunofunctions.
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