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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1988;96(3):385-90.

Acute barbiturate administration increases benzodiazepine receptor binding in vivo.

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  • 1Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, MA 02111.


Barbiturates have been reported to augment benzodiazepine receptor affinity in vitro, but their effects in vivo are uncertain. We determined benzodiazepine receptor binding in vivo by specific uptake of [3H]Ro15-1788 after barbiturate administration. Pentobarbital (30 mg/kg) increased receptor binding in cerebral cortex and cerebellum at 30 min after injection, with a peak effect occurring at 1 h after dosage, and a return to control levels at 2 h. Specific binding was increased at 1 h after pentobarbital administration in a dose-dependent fashion (7.5-90 mg/kg). Pentobarbital at doses up to 30 mg/kg failed to alter nonspecific binding, but at doses of 60 mg/kg increases in nonspecific binding were observed. The increases in specific binding observed after barbiturate administration were most likely due to a change in apparent receptor affinity, as determined by administration of varying doses of clonazepam to pentobarbital-treated (30 mg/kg) animals. The order of potency of a series of barbiturates in augmenting benzodiazepine receptor binding in cerebral cortex and cerebellum in vivo was: secobarbital greater than pentobarbital greater than amobarbital greater than phenobarbital greater than barbital. The same relative rank order of potency exists for the anesthetic/hypnotic activity of these barbiturates. These data suggest that barbiturates increase the apparent affinity of benzodiazepine receptors in vivo; unlike their in vitro actions, these alterations can be detected with a receptor antagonist.

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