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Anesthesiology. 2004 Apr;100(4):894-904.

Dexmedetomidine enhances analgesic action of nitrous oxide: mechanisms of action.

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Department of Anaesthetics and Intensive Care, Imperial College London, London, United Kingdom.



Nitrous oxide and dexmedetomidine are thought to mediate analgesia (antinociception in a noncommunicative organism) via alpha 2B- and alpha 2A-adrenergic receptor subtypes within the spinal cord, respectively. Nitrous oxide and dexmedetomidine exert diametrically opposite effects on neuronal activity within the locus ceruleus, a pivotal site for modulation of analgesia. Because of these differences, the authors explored whether the two analgesics in combination would provide satisfactory analgesia.


The analgesic effects of nitrous oxide and dexmedetomidine given both intraperitoneally and intrathecally were evaluated using the tail-flick latency test in rats. For investigation of the interaction, rats were pretreated with dexmedetomidine, either intraperitoneally or intrathecally, immediately before nitrous oxide exposure such that peak antinociceptive effects of each drug coincided. For assessment of the effect on tolerance, dexmedetomidine was administered as tolerance to nitrous oxide developed. Expression of c-Fos was used to assess neuronal activity in the locus ceruleus.


Nitrous oxide and dexmedetomidine increased tail-flick latency with an ED50 (mean +/- SEM) of 55.0 +/- 2.2% atm for nitrous oxide, 27.6 +/- 5.1 for microg/kg intraperitoneal dexmedetomidine, and 2.9 +/- 0.1 microg for intrathecal dexmedetomidine. Combinations of systemically administered dexmedetomidine and nitrous oxide produced an additive analgesic interaction; however, neuraxially administered dexmedetomidine interacted synergistically with nitrous oxide. Tolerance to nitrous oxide was reversed by coadministration of dexmedetomidine. Prazosin, the alpha 1-/alpha 2B-adrenoceptor antagonist, attenuated the analgesic effect of nitrous oxide and prevented dexmedetomidine-induced reversal of tolerance to nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide-induced increase of neuronal activity in the locus ceruleus was reversed by dexmedetomidine.


The synergistic analgesic interaction between nitrous oxide and dexmedetomidine within the spinal cord is obscured by a supraspinal antagonism when dexmedetomidine is administered systemically in the pretolerant state. After tolerance to nitrous oxide develops, supraspinal functional antagonism no longer obtains exposing the synergistic action at the level of the spinal cord, which expresses itself as a reversal of the tolerant state. The authors speculate that the addition of dexmedetomidine to nitrous oxide is likely to provide enhanced and more durable analgesia in settings in which nitrous oxide is currently used alone (e.g., labor and dental surgery).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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