The buccal mucosa represents a potentially important topical route for delivery of peptide or protein drugs with some unique advantages such as the avoidance of hepatic first-pass metabolism and the acidity and protease activity encountered in the gastrointestinal tract. However, the bioavailabilities or relative potencies of intraorally administered peptides are usually quite low, unless permeabilizers are employed. Chitosan, a mucopolysaccharide of marine origin, has been claimed to act both as a bioadhesive and permeabilizer, making it a candidate system for mucosal drug delivery. In this study, the enhancement effect of chitosan in gel form for oral mucosa was investigated with a large bioactive peptide, transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta). Chitosan gel was prepared at 2% concentration in dilute lactic acid and TGF-beta was incorporated into the gel. The effect of chitosan as a permeabilizer was determined by measuring the flux of TGF-beta across porcine oral mucosa in an in vitro system. The localization of TGF-beta within the oral mucosa was determined by horizontal sectioning and counting. Chitosan was found to exert a marked permeabilizing effect on buccal mucosa for peptide drug. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.