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The kinetics of entry and release of gentamicin was investigated in fluids and tissues of the inner ear of the rat, as well as in renal cortex, and in organs that do not share susceptibility to the toxic effects of aminoglycosides. Various modes of administration were used to achieve different patterns of drug plasma concentrations. Electrophysiological and histological examinations were performed to correlate pharmacokinetics and ototoxicity. Results show that: the uptake of the drug by the inner ear tissues is dose dependent and manifests a rapid saturation kinetics with a concentration plateau of about 1 micrograms/mg of protein. The low ratio of the perilymph and endolymph to plasma concentrations argues against the concept of an accumulation of the drug in the inner ear over drug levels in plasma, which has been considered as the basic mechanism of ototoxicity. In renal cortex, the kinetics appears similar to that of the inner ear but the concentrations achieved are 10-fold higher than in cochlear tissues. In other organs (liver, heart, lung, and spleen), no saturation could be demonstrated within the duration of the experiment. Ototoxicity seems to be related to the penetration of the drug into compartment(s) from which the half-life of disappearance is extremely slow. Rapid uptake, early saturation, and long exposure of the tissues to the drug may account for the development of toxicity in inner ear and kidney.