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Br J Pharmacol. 2006 Jan;147 Suppl 1:S277-86.

Neuromuscular block.

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Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow G4 0NR.


Descriptions of the South American arrow poisons known as curares were reported by explorers in the 16th century, and their site of action in producing neuromuscular block was determined by Claude Bernard in the mid-19th century. Tubocurarine, the most important curare alkaloid, played a large part in experiments to determine the role of acetylcholine in neuromuscular transmission, but it was not until after 1943 that neuromuscular blocking drugs became established as muscle relaxants for use during surgical anaesthesia. Tubocurarine causes a number of unwanted effects, and there have been many attempts to replace it. The available drugs fall into two main categories: the depolarising blocking drugs and the nondepolarising blocking drugs. The former act by complex mixed actions and are now obsolete with the exception of suxamethonium, the rapid onset and brief duration of action of which remain useful for intubation at the start of surgical anaesthesia. The nondepolarising blocking drugs are reversible acetylcholine receptor antagonists. The main ones are the atracurium group, which possess a built-in self-destruct mechanism that makes them specially useful in kidney or liver failure, and the vecuronium group, which are specially free from unwanted side effects. Of this latter group, the compound rocuronium is of special interest because its rapid onset of action allows it to be used for intubation, and there is promise that its duration of action may be rapidly terminated by a novel antagonist, a particular cyclodextrin, that chelates the drug, thereby removing it from the acetylcholine receptors.

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