Previous attempts to use ultrasound (≤1-MHz frequency and 1 to 3-W/cm2 intensity) to enhance transdermal drug delivery (so-called sonophoresis) have produced inconsistent results. Theoretical analysis of ultrasound propagation in tissue predicts that higher-frequency ultrasound (>1 MHz) will increase the concentration of energy deposition in the stratum corneum (SC) (typically, the rate-limiting barrier to percutaneous penetration). This hypothesis was tested by comparing the passive transdermal delivery of salicylic acid with that under the influence of ultrasound at 2-, 10-, and 16-MHz frequency; measurements were performed in vivo in hairless guinea pigs. Total drug absorbed was quantified by determining the amount of salicylic acid (1) present in SC tape strips and (2) eliminated in urine. Sonophoresis for 20 min at 2 MHz caused no significant increase in salicylic acid delivery over passive diffusion; treatment with ultrasound at 10 and 16 MHz, on the other hand, significantly elevated salicylic acid transport, by 4-fold and 2.5-fold, respectively. Kinetic analysis of the sonophoretic data at 10 and 16 MHz also revealed that the diffusion lag time associated with transdermal drug delivery (TDD) was reduced. A shorter period (5 min) of sonophoresis again resulted in enhanced TDD (relative to the corresponding control) at the higher frequencies; the delivered dose, and the level of enhancement, however, were lower than those after the 20-min treatment. In a separate series of experiments, it was shown that (a) ultrasound did not alter the release kinetics of salicylic acid from the gel formulation used and (b) pretreatment of the skin with ultrasound at 10 and 16 MHz lowered skin barrier function such that the subsequent delivery of salicylic acid was enhanced compared to passive transport without sonophoresis pretreatment. It follows that the enhancing effect of sonophoresis is due to a direct effect of ultrasound on (presumably) the stratum corneum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-564
Number of pages6
JournalPharmaceutical Research: An Official Journal of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 1992


  • salicylic acid
  • sonophoresis
  • stratum corneum
  • transdermal delivery
  • ultrasound

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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