Drug Distribution to Retinal Pigment Epithelium: Studies on Melanin Binding, Cellular Kinetics, and Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography/Computed Tomography Imaging

Melanin binding is known to affect the distribution and elimination of ocular drugs. The purpose of this study was to evaluate if the extent of drug uptake to primary retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells could be estimated based on in vitro binding studies with isolated melanin and evaluate the suitability of single photon emission computed tomography/computed tomography (SPECT/CT) in studying pigment binding in vivo with pigmented and albino rats. Binding of five compounds, basic molecules timolol, chloroquine, and nadolol and acidic molecules methotrexate and 5(6)-carboxy-2′,7′-dichlorofluorescein (CDCF), was studied using isolated melanin from porcine choroid-RPE at pH 5.0 and 7.4. The uptake to primary porcine RPE cells was studied with timolol, chloroquine, methotrexate, and CDCF. The cell study setting was modeled using parameters from the in vitro binding study. In vivo kinetics of 3-[I-123]-iodochloroquine was studied by the SPECT/CT method in albino and pigmented rats. All basic compounds bound to melanin at both pH values, whereas the acidic compounds bound more at pH 5.0 than at pH 7.4. The basic compounds (chloroquine, timolol) showed significant cellular uptake, unlike the acidic compounds (methotrexate, CDCF). On the basis of the modeling, melanin binding was a major factor governing the overall drug distribution to the RPE cells. Likewise, melanin binding explained distribution of 3-[I-123]-iodochloroquine in the pigmented RPE, whereas drug accumulation was not seen in the albino rat. This study demonstrates the suitability of noninvasive SPECT/CT imaging in monitoring ocular melanin binding in vivo. These studies are a useful step toward understanding the pharmacokinetic impact of melanin binding.