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Am J Trop Med Hyg. 1994 Sep;51(3):251-9.

Fatal neurotoxicity of arteether and artemether.

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Division of Experimental Therapeutics, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, Washington, District of Columbia.


Artemisinin (qinghaosu) and several derivatives have been developed and are in use as antimalarial drugs but scant information is available regarding animal or human toxicity. Following a eight-day, multiple-dose, pharmacokinetic study of arteether (AE) (10 mg/kg/day [n = 6] and 20 mg/kg/day [n = 6]) in dogs, all high-dose animals displayed a progressive syndrome of clinical neurologic defects with progressive cardiorespiratory collapse and death in five of six animals. Neurologic findings included gait disturbances, loss of spinal and pain response reflexes, and prominent loss of brain stem and eye reflexes. Animals had prolongation of QT interval corrected for rate (QTc) on electrocardiograms (ECGs) with bizarre ST-T segment changes. Prominent neuropathic lesions were noted to be primarily limited to the pons and medulla. Similar lesions with dose-related severity were noted in eight other dogs studied in a second study with intramuscular (IM) administration of AE in sesame oil during a 28-day, dose-ranging study using 5, 10, 15, and 20 mg/kg/day. Injury, graded by a pathologist blinded to the dose group, showed a dose-related, region-specific injury in all animals that was most pronounced in the pons. Further studies in Sprague-Dawley rats using IM administration of AE and artemether (AM) at a dose of 12.5-50 mg/kg/day for 28 days confirmed the onset of a clinical neurologic syndrome with dose-related changes in body weight, activity, and seizure-like activity, stereotypic movement disorders, and ECG changes.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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