Increasing Linker Chain Length and Intestinal Stability Enhances Lymphatic Transport and Lymph Node Exposure of Triglyceride Mimetic Prodrugs of a Model Immunomodulator Mycophenolic Acid

Sifei Han, Tim Quach, Luojuan Hu, Shea Fern Lim, Dan Zheng, Nathania J. Leong, Garima Sharma, Daniel Bonner, Jamie S. Simpson, Natalie L. Trevaskis, Christopher J.H. Porter

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Targeted delivery of immunomodulators to the lymphatic system has the potential to enhance therapeutic efficacy by increasing colocalization of drugs with immune targets such as lymphocytes. A triglyceride (TG)-mimetic prodrug strategy has been recently shown to enhance the lymphatic delivery of a model immunomodulator, mycophenolic acid (MPA), via incorporation into the intestinal TG deacylation-reacylation and lymph lipoprotein transport pathways. In the current study, a series of structurally related TG prodrugs of MPA were examined to optimize structure-lymphatic transport relationships for lymph-directing lipid-mimetic prodrugs. MPA was conjugated to the sn-2 position of the glyceride backbone of the prodrugs using linkers of different chain length (5-21 carbons) and the effect of methyl substitutions at the alpha and/or beta carbons to the glyceride end of the linker was examined. Lymphatic transport was assessed in mesenteric lymph duct cannulated rats, and drug exposure in lymph nodes was examined following oral administration to mice. Prodrug stability in simulated intestinal digestive fluid was also evaluated. Prodrugs with straight chain linkers were relatively unstable in simulated intestinal fluid; however, co-administration of lipase inhibitors (JZL184 and orlistat) was able to reduce instability and increase lymphatic transport (2-fold for a prodrug with a 6-carbon spacer, i.e., MPA-C6-TG). Methyl substitutions to the chain resulted in similar trends in improving intestinal stability and lymphatic transport. Medium- to long-chain spacers (C12, C15) between MPA and the glyceride backbone were most effective in promoting lymphatic transport, consistent with increases in lipophilicity. In contrast, short-chain (C6-C10) linkers appeared to be too unstable in the intestine and insufficiently lipophilic to associate with lymph lipid transport pathways, while very long-chain (C18, C21) linkers were also not preferred, likely as a result of increases in molecular weight reducing solubility or permeability. In addition to more effectively promoting drug transport into mesenteric lymph, TG-mimetic prodrugs based on a C12 linker resulted in marked increases (>40 fold) in the exposure of MPA in the mesenteric lymph nodes in mice when compared to administration of MPA alone, suggesting that optimizing prodrug design has the potential to provide benefit in targeting and modulating immune cells.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2675-2685
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Pharmaceutics
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • lipid-based formulation
  • lymphatic transport
  • mycophenolic acid
  • oral drug delivery
  • prodrug
  • triglyceride mimetic

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