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Circulation. 1991 Jul;84(1):75-83.

Hemodynamic and neurohormonal effects of clonidine in patients with preganglionic and postganglionic sympathetic lesions. Evidence for a central sympatholytic action.

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Department of Medicine, St. Mary's Hospital, London, UK.



Clonidine, a partial presynaptic and postsynaptic alpha-adrenoceptor agonist, has been shown to lower blood pressure in normal subjects but not in tetraplegics; however, the mechanisms of this action have not been elucidated.


The hemodynamic and hormonal basis of the hypotensive action of clonidine was investigated in tetraplegics with complete cervical spinal cord transection and preganglionic sympathetic denervation, in patients with unilateral brachial plexus injury and postganglionic sympathetic denervation, and in normal subjects. In normal subjects, the fall in blood pressure after clonidine infusion was accompanied by a reduction in cardiac output that was predominantly due to a fall in stroke volume and in heart rate. The lack of fall in blood pressure, cardiac output, and stroke volume in tetraplegics indicates that these effects are exerted at a supraspinal level and require intact descending sympathetic pathways. After clonidine infusion, digital skin vasodilatation occurred in normal subjects, in the innervated but not the denervated limb of patients with unilateral brachial plexus injury, and in tetraplegics, indicating that this response is due to the central sympatholytic effect of clonidine. Plasma norepinephrine was much lower in tetraplegics compared with normal subjects, and after clonidine infusion, it fell substantially in normal subjects alone. Plasma renin activity did not change. Bladder stimulation in tetraplegics resulted in a rise in blood pressure and vasoconstriction in digital skin vessels. The inability of clonidine to significantly reduce or abolish the pressor and digital vasoconstrictor responses after bladder stimulation in tetraplegics indicates that clonidine does not exert a major effect on spinal preganglionic neurons or peripheral presynaptic alpha 2-adrenoceptors.


Therefore, clonidine is a suitable drug for use in analyzing the central supraspinal levels of control in varying circulatory disorders, such as hypertension and postural hypotension.

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