Intracellular unbound drug concentrations are the pharmacologically relevant concentrations for targets inside cells. Intracellular drug concentrations are determined by multiple processes, including the extent of drug binding to intracellular structures. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of neutral lipid (NL) and phospholipid (PL) levels on intracellular drug disposition. The NL and/or PL content of 3T3-L1 cells were enhanced, resulting in phenotypes (in terms of morphology and proteome) reminiscent of adipocytes (high NL and PL) or mild phospholipidosis (only high PL). Intracellular bioavailability (Fic) was then determined for 23 drugs in these cellular models and in untreated wild-type cells. A higher PL content led to higher intracellular drug binding and a lower Fic. The induction of NL did not further increase drug binding but led to altered Fic due to increased lysosomal pH. Further, there was a good correlation between binding to beads coated with pure PL and intracellular drug binding. In conclusion, our results suggest that PL content is a major determinant of drug binding in cells and that PL beads may constitute a simple alternative to estimating this parameter. Further, the presence of massive amounts of intracellular NLs did not influence drug binding significantly.

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