The role of P-glycoprotein in CNS antihistamine effects

Silke Conen, Eef L Theunissen, Annemiek Vermeeren, Peter van Ruitenbeek, Peter Stiers, Mitul A Mehta, Stefan W Toennes, Johannes G Ramaekers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


RATIONALE: P-glycoprotein (P-gp) is a drug efflux pump expressed, amongst others, on the luminal surface of the cerebral endothelial cells forming the blood-brain barrier. Studies in rodents have demonstrated that antihistamines that are substrates of the P-gp transporter display no or minor central nervous system (CNS) effects as compared to antihistamines that are not P-gp transporter substrates.

OBJECTIVES: The present study explored whether P-gp contributes in similar ways to the occurrence of sedative effects of antihistamines in humans.

METHODS: An fMRI study was conducted according to a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, cross-over design in 13 healthy volunteers. Participants received cetirizine 15 mg (an antihistamine), verapamil 120 mg (a P-gp blocker), a combination of cetirizine + verapamil, and a placebo. Brain activity was assessed while conducting the attention network test (ANT) in a 3T magnetic resonance scanner. The ANT measures three independent attention domains: i.e., alerting, orienting, and executive attention. It was expected that the combined treatment of cetirizine with verapamil would prevent efflux of cetirizine from the CNS, thus increasing attentional impairment, as compared to cetirizine administered alone.

RESULTS: The present study provides evidence that the P-gp transporter is involved in central antihistamine effects in humans. Participants were less alert during the combined treatment of cetirizine and verapamil as indicated by longer reaction times and decreased blood oxygen level-dependent response in the right superior temporal gyrus.

CONCLUSION: It is concluded that the affinity for the P-gp transporter may contribute to the lower incidence of CNS side effects of certain antihistamines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-19
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2013


  • ATP-Binding Cassette, Sub-Family B, Member 1/antagonists & inhibitors
  • Adult
  • Brain/drug effects
  • Cetirizine/administration & dosage
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Histamine H1 Antagonists, Non-Sedating/administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reaction Time/drug effects
  • Verapamil/administration & dosage
  • Young Adult


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