Chiral pharmaceuticals in the environment

Ana R. Ribeiro, Paula M. L. Castro, Maria E. Tiritan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

74 Citations (Scopus)


Many pharmaceutical pollutants are chiral, existing in the environment as a single enantiomer or as mixtures of the two enantiomers. In spite of their similar physical and chemical properties, the different spatial configurations lead the enantiomers to have different interactions with enzymes, receptors or other chiral molecules, which can give diverse biological response. Consequently, biodegradation process and ecotoxicity tend to be enantioselective. Despite numerous ongoing research regarding analysis and monitorization of pharmaceutical ingredients in the environment, the fate and effects of single enantiomers of chiral pharmaceuticals (CP) in the environment are still largely unknown. There are only few chiral analytical methods to accurately measure the enantiomeric fraction (EF) in environmental matrices and during biodegradation processes. Furthermore, the ecotoxicity studies usually consider the enantiomeric pair as unique compound. We reviewed the current knowledge about CP in the environment, as well as the chiral analytical methods to determine the EF in environmental matrices. The degradation and removal processes of CP of important therapeutic classes, usually detected in the environment, and their toxicity to aquatic organisms were also reviewed. On the other hand, this review demonstrate that despite the great importance of the stereochemistry in pharmaceutical science, pharmacology and organic chemistry, this is normally neglected in environmental studies. Therefore, CP in the environment need much more attention from the scientific community, and more research within this subject is required.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-253
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Chemistry Letters
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012


  • Biodegradation
  • Chiral pharmaceuticals
  • Chiral stationary phases
  • Ecotoxicity
  • Enantiomeric fraction
  • Enantioselectivity


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