Isotretinoin is an extremely effective drug if given systemically in severe forms of seborrhoea and acne, being the only retinoid with potent sebostatic properties. Its unique activity on the sebaceous gland still remains unclear since isotretinoin barely binds to cellular retinoic-acid-binding proteins and to retinoic acid receptors. Its bioavailability is approximately 25% and can be increased by food 1.5–2 times; after 30 min, the drug is detectable in the blood and maximal concentrations are reached 2–4 h after oral intake. The major metabolites of isotretinoin in blood are 4-hydroxy- and 4-oxo-isotretinoin, while several glucuronides are detectable in the bile. 4-Oxo-isotretinoin is present in plasma in a 2- to 4-fold higher concentration 6 h after a single dose. Steady-state concentrations appear after 1 week. The half-life elimination rate of the parent compound ranges from 7 to 37 h while that of some metabolites does so from 11 to 50 h. Isotretinoin crosses the placenta and is recognized as a strong teratogenic compound. About 10–30% of the drug is metabolized via its isomer tretinoin. Excretion of isotretinoin occurs after conjugation with the faeces or after metabolization with the urine. The epidermal levels of isotretinoin are rather low and no progressive accumulation, either in serum or in the skin, is found. After discontinuation of therapy, isotretinoin disappears from serum and skin within 2–4 weeks. Isotretinoin is the most effective drug in reducing sebaceous gland size (up to 90%) by decreasing proliferation of basal sebocytes, suppressing sebum production and inhibiting sebocyte differentiation in vivo. The molecular basis for its antisebotrophic activity has not been fully elucidated. Isotretinoin also exhibits anti-inflammatory activities. Systemic isotretinoin is today the regimen of choice in severe seborrhoea, since it reduces sebocyte lipid synthesis by 75% with daily doses as low as 0.1 mg/kg after 4 weeks. Patients who have received oral isotretinoin therapy for seborrhoea do not usually experience a relapse for months or years. In severe acne, a 6- to 12-month treatment with isotretinoin 1 mg/kg/day reduced to 0.5 or 0.2 mg/kg/day according to the response is recommended (cumulative dose of >120 mg/kg). Contraception is essential during isotretinoin treatment in women of childbearing age 1 month before, during and for 3 months after discontinuation of treatment.
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