Pharmacology of Vancomycin

#Vancomycin antibiotic drug glycopeptide class molecule Skeletal formula

Vancomycin is a strong antibiotic that is used to treat serious bacterial infections, mostly those caused by Gram-positive bacteria, like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). Below is a comprehensive overview of the pharmacology of vancomycin:

Mechanism of Action

Vancomycin works by inhibiting cell wall synthesis in bacteria. It binds to the D-alanyl-D-alanine terminus of cell wall precursor units, preventing their incorporation into the cell wall and thus weakening the bacterial cell wall, leading to cell lysis and death.


  • Absorption: Vancomycin is poorly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and is usually administered intravenously for systemic infections. Oral administration is used for Clostridium difficile infections in the colon.
  • Distribution: It is distributed throughout the body, including in bones and pleural fluid, but penetration into the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is limited unless the meninges are inflamed.
  • Metabolism: Vancomycin undergoes minimal metabolism.
  • Excretion: It is primarily excreted unchanged in the urine.

Adverse Effects

  • Nephrotoxicity: Kidney damage, particularly with high doses or prolonged use.
  • Ototoxicity: Hearing loss, which can be permanent.
  • Red Man Syndrome: A histamine-mediated reaction characterized by red rash, flushing, and itching, usually on the face, neck, and upper body, occurring when the drug is infused too rapidly.
  • Thrombophlebitis: Inflammation of a vein associated with a clot, at the site of the intravenous catheter.
  • Bone Marrow Suppression: Rare, but can lead to low levels of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

Clinical Uses

  • Serious Gram-Positive Infections: Including MRSA, Streptococcus, and Enterococcus species.
  • Endocarditis: Infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves.
  • Bone and Joint Infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Skin and Soft Tissue Infections
  • Clostridium difficile Infections: In the colon, treated with oral vancomycin.


Vancomycin resistance can happen, especially in Enterococcus species, because the D-alanyl-D-alanine terminus can change to D-alanyl-D-lactate or D-alanyl-D-serine, which makes vancomycin less likely to bind.

Drug Interactions

  • Other Nephrotoxic or Ototoxic Drugs: Such as aminoglycosides, can increase the risk of kidney damage and hearing loss.
  • Anesthetic Agents: Vancomycin can enhance the neuromuscular blocking effects of anesthetic agents.


Due to the risk of nephrotoxicity and ototoxicity, it is crucial to monitor kidney function and drug levels in the blood, especially during prolonged therapy or in patients with pre-existing kidney disease.


  • Allergy to Vancomycin: Patients with a history of allergy to vancomycin should not receive this medication.
  • Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Use with caution, and only if the potential benefits justify the potential risks to the fetus or infant.


Vancomycin is a vital antibiotic used to treat serious bacterial infections, especially those caused by MRSA and other Gram-positive bacteria. However, its use is associated with significant risks, including kidney damage and hearing loss. Appropriate dosing, careful monitoring, and awareness of potential drug interactions are essential to minimize these risks and ensure safe and effective use. Vancomycin remains a crucial option in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but its use must be carefully managed to preserve its efficacy and minimize adverse effects.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a healthcare provider with any questions regarding a medical condition.

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