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Paediatr Drugs. 2013 Jun;15(3):247-57. doi: 10.1007/s40272-013-0029-1.

A predictive pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic model of fentanyl for analgesia/sedation in neonates based on a semi-physiologic approach.

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Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, University of the Basque Country, Leioa, Spain.



Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid commonly used as an anesthetic and also increasingly popular as a sedative agent in neonates. Initial dosage regimens in this population are often empirically derived from adults on a body weight basis. However, ontogenic maturation processes related to drug disposition are not necessarily always body weight correlates. We developed a predictive pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic model that includes growth and maturation physiologic changes for fentanyl in neonatal care.


Key pharmacokinetic variables and principles (protein binding, clearance, distribution) as related to fentanyl pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic behavior in adults (tricompartmental model) and to neonatal physiologic data (organ weights and blood flows, body composition, renal and hepatic function, etc.) were used to guide the building of a semi-physiologic ontogenic model. The model applies to a normal-term neonate without any other intervention. Then, extension to a pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic link model for fentanyl was made. The final model was evaluated by predicting the time course of plasma concentrations and the effect of a standard regimen of 10.5 μg/kg over a 1-h period followed by 1.5 μg/kg/h for 48 h.


Hepatic clearance was linked to ontogeny of unbound fraction and of α1-acid glycoprotein. All parameters were reduced in the neonate compared to adults but in a differing proportion due to qualitative changes in physiology that are analyzed and accounted for. Systemic clearance (CLS), volume of the central compartment (V1) and steady-state volume of distribution predicted by the model were 0.028 L/min, 1.26 L, and 22.04 L, respectively. Weight-corrected parameters generally decreased in adults compared with neonates, but differentially, e.g., CLS = 0.0093 versus 0.0088 L/min/kg, while V1 = 0.42 versus 0.18 L/kg (neonates vs. adults). Under such complexity a pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic model is the appropriate method for rational efficacy targeting. Fentanyl pharmacodynamics in neonates were considered to be similar to those in adults except for the equilibrium rate constant, which was also scaled on an ontogenic basis. The model adequately predicted the reported mean expected concentration-time profiles for the standard regimen.


Integrated pharmacokinetic/pharmacodynamic modeling showed that the usually prescribed dosage regimens of fentanyl in neonates may not always provide the optimum degree of sedation. The model could be used in optimal design of clinical trials for this vulnerable population. Prospective clinical testing is the reasonable next step.

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