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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2009 Sep 12;364(1529):2611-23. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0076.

The potency of different serotonergic agonists in counteracting opioid evoked cardiorespiratory disturbances.

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  • 1Institute of Membrane and Systems Biology, University of Leeds, , Leeds LS2 9JT, UK.


Serotonin receptor (5-HTR) agonists that target 5-HT(4(a))R and 5-HT(1A)R can reverse mu-opioid receptor (mu-OR)-evoked respiratory depression. Here, we have tested whether such rescuing by serotonin agonists also applies to the cardiovascular system. In working heart-brainstem preparations in situ, we have recorded phrenic nerve activity, thoracic sympathetic chain activity (SCA), vascular resistance and heart rate (HR) and in conscious rats, diaphragmatic electromyogram, arterial blood pressure (BP) and HR via radio-telemetry. In addition, the distribution of 5-HT(4(a))R and 5-HT(1A)R in ponto-medullary cardiorespiratory networks was identified using histochemistry. Systemic administration of the mu-OR agonist fentanyl in situ decreased HR, vascular resistance, SCA and phrenic nerve activity. Subsequent application of the 5-HT(1A)R agonist 8-OH-DPAT further enhanced bradycardia, but partially compensated the decrease in vascular resistance, sympathetic activity and restored breathing. By contrast, the 5-HT(4(a))R agonist RS67333 further decreased vascular resistance, HR and sympathetic activity, but partially rescued breathing. In conscious rats, administration of remifentanyl caused severe respiratory depression, a decrease in mean BP accompanied by pronounced bradyarrhythmia. 8-OH-DPAT restored breathing and prevented the bradyarrhythmia; however, BP and HR remained below baseline. In contrast, RS67333 further suppressed cardiovascular functions in vivo and only partially recovered breathing in some cases. The better recovery of mu-OR cardiorespiratory disturbance by 5-HT(1A)R than 5-HT(4(a))R is supported by the finding that 5-HT(1A)R was more densely expressed in key brainstem nuclei for cardiorespiratory control compared with 5-HT(4(a))R. We conclude that during treatment of severe pain, 5-HT(1A)R agonists may provide a useful tool to counteract opioid-mediated cardiorespiratory disturbances.

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