Mechanism for the Degradation of Erythromycin A and Erythromycin A 2‘-Ethyl Succinate in Acidic Aqueous Solution

A major drawback of the antibiotic erythromycin A is its extreme acid sensitivity, leading to rapid inactivation in the stomach. The accepted model for degradation in aqueous acidic solution has erythromycin A in equilibrium with erythromycin A enol ether and degrading to anhydroerythromycin A. We report a detailed kinetic study of the acidic degradation of erythromycin A and of erythromycin A 2‘-ethyl succinate (the market-leading pediatric prodrug), investigating the reaction rates and degradation products via NMR. This reveals that the accepted mechanism is incorrect and that both the enol ether and the anhydride are in equilibrium with the parent erythromycin. By implication, both the anhydride and enol ether are antibacterially inactive reservoirs for the parent erythromycin. The actual degradation pathway is the slow loss of cladinose from erythromycin A (or erythromycin A 2‘-ethyl succinate), which is reported here for the first time in a kinetic study. The kinetic analysis is based on global, nonlinear, simultaneous least-squares fitting of time course concentrations for all species across multiple datasets to integrated rate expressions, to provide robust estimates of the rate constants.