Surfactants: Their critical role in enhancing drug delivery to the lungs

Javier O. Morales, Jay I. Peters, Robert O. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


For local lung conditions and diseases, pulmonary drug delivery has been widely used for more than 50 years now. A more recent trend involves the pulmonary route as a systemic drug-delivery target. Advantages such as avoidance of the gastrointestinal environment, different enzyme content compared with the intestine, and avoidance of first-pass metabolism make the lung an alternative route for the systemic delivery of actives. However, the lung offers barriers to absorption such as a surfactant layer, epithelial surface lining fluid, epithelial monolayer, interstitium and basement membrane, and capillary endothelium. Many delivery strategies have been developed in order to overcome these limitations. The use of surfactants is one of these approaches and their role in enhancing pulmonary drug delivery is reviewed in this article. A systematic review of the literature relating to the effect of surfactants on formulations for pulmonary delivery was conducted. Specifically, research reporting enhancement of in vivo performance was focused on. The effect of the addition of surfactants such as phospholipids, bile salts, non-ionic, fatty acids, and liposomes as phospholipid-containing carriers on the enhancement of therapeutic outcomes of drugs for pulmonary delivery was compiled. The main use attributed to surfactants in pulmonary drug delivery is as absorption enhancers by mechanisms of action not yet fully understood. Furthermore, surfactants have been used to improve the delivery of inhaled drugs in various additional strategies discussed herein.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)623-641
Number of pages19
JournalTherapeutic Delivery
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmaceutical Science


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