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Anesthesiology. 1996 Apr;84(4):821-33.

Remifentanil versus alfentanil: comparative pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics in healthy adult male volunteers.

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Palo Alto Veterans Administration Medical Center, Palo Alto, California, USA.

Erratum in

  • Anesthesiology 1996 Sep;85(3):695.



Remifentanil is an esterase-metabolized opioid with a rapid clearance. The aim of this study was to contrast the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of remifentanil and alfentanil in healthy, adult male volunteers.


Ten volunteers received infusions of remifentanil and alfentanil on separate study sessions using a randomized, open-label crossover design. Arterial blood samples were analyzed to determine drug blood concentrations. The electroencephalogram was employed as the measure of drug effect. The pharmacokinetics were characterized using a moment analysis, a nonlinear mixed effects model (NONMEM) population analysis, and context-sensitive half-time computer simulations. After processing the raw electroencephalogram to obtain the spectral edge parameter, the pharmacodynamics were characterized using an effect compartment, inhibitory maximum effect model.


Pharmacokinetically, the two drugs are similar in terms of steady-state distribution volume (VD(SS)), but remifentanil's central clearance (CLc)) is substantially greater. The NONMEM analysis population pharmacokinetic parameters for remifentanil include a CLc of 2.9 l x min(-1), a VDss of 21.81, and a terminal half-life of 35.1 min. Corresponding NONMEM parameters for alfentanil are 0.36 l x min(-1), 34.11, and 94.5 min. Pharmacodynamically, the drugs are similar in terms of the time required for equilibration between blood and the effect-site concentrations, as evidenced by a T(12)k(e0) for remifentanil of 0.75 min [corrected] and 0.96 min for alfentanil. However, remifentanil is 19 times more potent than alfentanil, with an effective concentration for 50% maximal effect of 19.9 ng x ml(-1) versus 375.9 ng x ml(-1) for alfentanil.


Compared to alfentanil, the high clearance of remifentanil, combined with its small steady-state distribution volume, results in a rapid decline in blood concentration after termination of an infusion. With the exception of remifentanil's nearly 20-times greater potency (30-times if alfentanil partitioning between whole blood and plasma is considered), the drugs are pharmacodynamically similar.

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