Mechanism behind polysorbates' inhibitory effect on P-glycoprotein

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Much effort has been invested in the search for modulators of membrane transport proteins such as P-glycoprotein (P-gp) to improve drug bioavailability and reverse multidrug resistance in cancer. Nonionic surfactants, a class of pharmaceutical excipients, are known to inhibit such proteins, but knowledge about the exact mechanism of this inhibition is scarce. Here, we perform multiscale molecular dynamics simulations of one of these surfactants, polysorbate 20 (PS20), to reveal the behavior of such compounds on the molecular level and thereby discover the molecular mechanism of the P-gp inhibition. We show that the amphiphilic headgroup of PS20 is too hydrophobic to partition in the water phase, which drives the binding of PS20 to the amphiphilic drug-binding domain of P-gp and thereby causes the inhibition of the protein. Based on our findings, we conclude that PS20 primarily inhibits P-gp through direct binding to the drug-binding domain (DBD) from the extracellular leaflet.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Pharmaceutics
Issue number7
Pages (from-to)2248-2253
Publication statusPublished - 4. Jul 2022


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B
  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B, Member 1
  • Excipients/chemistry
  • Polysorbates/chemistry
  • Surface-Active Agents/chemistry


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