Structure–activity relationship in the passage of different pyrrolizidine alkaloids through the gastrointestinal barrier: ABCB1 excretes heliotrine and echimidine




1,2-Unsaturated pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) are found in plants such as Asteraceae and Boraginaceae families. Acute PA poisoning via contaminated food or feed causes severe damage to liver depending on species-specific oral bioavailability. For assessing PA bioavailability, their passage across the intestinal barrier was investigated using Caco-2 cells.


Differentiated Caco-2 cells were exposed in transport chambers to the PA heliotrine (Hn), echimidine (Em), senecionine (Sc), and senkirkine (Sk). Cell supernatants were analyzed by LC-MS/MS.


PA pass Caco-2 monolayer from the apical into basolateral compartment depending on their chemical structure. Compared to the cyclic diesters Sc and Sk with a passage rate of 47% ± 4 and 40% ± 3, respectively, the transferred amount of the monoester Hn (32% ± 3) and open-chained diester Em (13% ± 2) was substantially lower. This suggested an active transport of Hn and Em. Using Madin–Darby canine kidney II/P-glycoprotein (ABCB1)-overexpressing cells, the active excretion of Hn and Em by ABCB1 from the gastrointestinal epithelium into the gut lumen was shown.


PA cross the intestinal barrier structure-dependently. The passage of the noncyclic PA Hn and Em is reduced by an ABCB1-driven efflux into the gastrointestinal lumen resulting in a decreased oral bioavailability.