NCLEX: Adrenergic Agonists

The adrenergic drugs affect receptors that are stimulated by norepinephrine (noradrenaline) or epinephrine (adrenaline). These receptors are known as adrenergic receptors or adrenoceptors. Adrenergic drugs that activate adrenergic receptors are termed sympathomimetics, and drugs that block the activation of adrenergic receptors are termed sympatholytics. Some sympathomimetics directly activate adrenergic receptors (direct-acting agonists), while others act indirectly by enhancing release or blocking reuptake of norepinephrine (indirect-acting agonists). This chapter describes agents that either directly or indirectly stimulate adrenoceptors.

Adrenergic Agonists: THE ADRENERGIC NEURON

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Adrenergic neurons release norepinephrine as the primary neurotransmitter. These neurons are found in the central nervous system (CNS) and also in the sympathetic nervous system, where they serve as links between ganglia and the effector organs. Adrenergic drugs act on adrenergic receptors, located either presynaptically on the neuron or postsynaptically on the effector organ.

A. Neurotransmission at adrenergic neurons

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Neurotransmission in adrenergic neurons closely resembles that described for the cholinergic neurons, except that norepinephrine is the neurotransmitter instead of acetylcholine. Neurotransmission involves the following steps: synthesis, storage, release, and receptor binding of norepinephrine, followed by removal of the neurotransmitter from the synaptic gap.

  • Synthesis of norepinephrine: Tyrosine is transported by a carrier into the adrenergic neuron, where it is hydroxylated to dihydroxyphenylalanine (DOPA) by tyrosine hydroxylase. This is the rate-limiting step in the formation of norepinephrine. DOPA is then decarboxylated by the enzyme aromatic I-amino acid decarboxylase to form dopamine in the presynaptic neuron.
  • Storage of norepinephrine in vesicles: Dopamine is then transported into synaptic vesicles by an amine transporter system. This carrier system is blocked by reserpine. Dopamine is next hydroxylated to form norepinephrine by the enzyme dopamineβ-hydroxylase.
  • Release of norepinephrine: An action potential arriving at the nerve junction triggers an influx of calcium ions from the extracellular fluid into the cytoplasm of the neuron. The increase in calcium causes synaptic vesicles to fuse with the cell membrane and to undergo exocytosis to expel their contents into the synapse. Drugs such as guanethidine block this release.
  • Binding to receptors: Norepinephrine released from the synaptic vesicles diffuses into the synaptic space and binds to postsynaptic receptors on the effector organ or to presynaptic receptors on the nerve ending. Binding of norepinephrine to receptors triggers a cascade of events within the cell, resulting in the formation of intracellular second messengers that act as links (transducers) in the communication between the neurotransmitter and the action generated within the effector cell. Adrenergic receptors use both the cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) second messenger system and the phosphatidylinositol cycle to transduce the signal into an effect. Norepinephrine also binds to presynaptic receptors (mainly α2 subtype) that modulate the release of the neurotransmitter.
  • Removal of norepinephrine: Norepinephrine may 1) diffuse out of the synaptic space and enter the systemic circulation; 2) be metabolized to inactive metabolites by catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) in the synaptic space; or 3) undergo reuptake back into the neuron. The reuptake by the neuronal membrane involves a sodium-chloride (Na+/Cl-)-dependent norepinephrine transporter (NET) that can be inhibited by tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), such as imipramine, by serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors such as duloxetine, or by cocaine. Reuptake of norepinephrine into the presynaptic neuron is the primary mechanism for termination of its effects.
  • Potential fates of recaptured norepinephrine: Once norepinephrine reenters the adrenergic neuron, it may be taken up into synaptic vesicles via the amine transporter system and be sequestered for release by another action potential, or it may persist in a protected pool in the cytoplasm. Alternatively, norepinephrine can be oxidized by monoamine oxidase (MAO) present in neuronal mitochondria.

Adrenergic Agonists

Adrenergic Agonists

B. Adrenergic receptors (adrenoceptors)

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

In the sympathetic nervous system, several classes of adrenoceptors can be distinguished pharmacologically. Two main families of receptors, designated α and β, are classified on the basis of their responses to the adrenergic agonists epinephrine, norepinephrine, and isoproterenol. Each of these main receptor types has a number of specific receptor subtypes that have been identified. Alterations in the primary structure of the receptors influence their affinity for various agents.

Adrenergic Agonists

1. α-Adrenoceptors: The α-adrenoceptors show a weak response to the synthetic agonist isoproterenol, but they are responsive to the naturally occurring catecholamines epinephrine and norepinephrine. For α receptors, the rank order of potency and affinity is epinephrine ≥ norepinephrine >> isoproterenol. The α-adrenoceptors are subdivided into two subgroups, α1 and α2, based on their affinities for α agonists and blocking drugs. For example,the α1 receptors have a higher affinity for phenylephrine than α2 receptors. Conversely, the drug clonidine selectively binds to α2 receptors and has less effect on α1 receptors.

  • α1 Receptors: These receptors are present on the postsynaptic membrane of the effector organs and mediate many of the classic effects, originally designated as α-adrenergic, involving constriction of smooth muscle. Activation of α1 receptors initiates a series of reactions through the G protein activation of phospholipase C, ultimately resulting in the generation of second messengers inositol- 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3) and diacylglycerol (DAG). IP3 initiates the release of Ca2+ from the endoplasmic reticulum into the cytosol, and DAG turns on other proteins within the cell.
  • α2 Receptors: These receptors are located primarily on sympathetic presynaptic nerve endings and control the release of norepinephrine. When a sympathetic adrenergic nerve is stimulated, a portion of the released norepinephrine “circles back” and reacts with α2 receptors on the presynaptic membrane. Stimulation of α2 receptors causes feedback inhibition and inhibits further release of norepinephrine from the stimulated adrenergic neuron. This inhibitory action serves as a local mechanism for modulating norepinephrine output when there is high sympathetic activity. [Note: In this instance, by inhibiting further output of norepinephrine from the adrenergic neuron, these receptors are acting as inhibitory autoreceptors.] α2 receptors are also found on presynaptic parasympathetic neurons. Norepinephrine released from a presynaptic sympathetic neuron can diffuse to and interact with these receptors, inhibiting acetylcholine release. [Note: In these instances, these receptors are behaving as inhibitory heteroreceptors.] This is another mechanism to modulate autonomic activity in a given area. In contrast to α1 receptors, the effects of binding at α2 receptors are mediated by inhibition of adenylyl cyclase and by a fall in the levels of intracellular cAMP.
  • Further subdivisions: The α1 and α2 receptors are further divided into α1A, α1B, α1C, and α1D and into α2A, α2B, and α2C. This extended classification is necessary for understanding the selectivity of some drugs. For example, tamsulosin is a selective α1A antagonist that is used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia. The drug has fewer cardiovascular side effects because it targets α1A subtype receptors found primarily in the urinary tract and prostate gland and does not affect the α1B subtype found in the blood vessels.

2. β-Adrenoceptors: Responses of β receptors differ from those of α receptors and are characterized by a strong response to isoproterenol, with less sensitivity to epinephrine and norepinephrine. For β receptors, the rank order of potency is isoproterenol > epinephrine > norepinephrine. The β-adrenoceptors can be subdivided into three major subgroups, β1, β2, and β3, based on their affinities for adrenergic agonists and antagonists. β1 receptors have approximately equal affinities for epinephrine and norepinephrine, whereas β2 receptors have a higher affinity for epinephrine than for norepinephrine. Thus, tissues with a predominance of β2 receptors (such as the vasculature of skeletal muscle) are particularly responsive to the effects of circulating epinephrine released by the adrenal medulla. β3 receptors are involved in lipolysis and also have effects on the detrusor muscle of the bladder. Binding of a neurotransmitter at any of the three types of β receptors results in activation of adenylyl cyclase and increased concentrations of cAMP within the cell.

3. Distribution of receptors: Adrenergically innervated organs and tissues usually have a predominant type of receptor. For example, tissues such as the vasculature of skeletal muscle have both α1 and β2 receptors, but the β2 receptors predominate. Other tissues may have one type of receptor almost exclusively. For example, the heart contains predominantly β1 receptors.

4. Characteristic responses mediated by adrenoceptors: It is useful to organize the physiologic responses to adrenergic stimulation according to receptor type, because many drugs preferentially stimulate or block one type of receptor summarizes the most prominent effects mediated by the adrenoceptors. As a generalization, stimulation of α1 receptors characteristically produces vasoconstriction (particularly in skin and abdominal viscera) and an increase in total peripheral resistance and blood pressure. Stimulation of β1 receptors characteristically causes cardiac stimulation (increase in heart rate and contractility), whereas stimulation of β2 receptors produces vasodilation (in skeletal muscle vascular beds) and smooth muscle relaxation.

5. Desensitization of receptors: Prolonged exposure to the catecholamines reduces the responsiveness of these receptors, a phenomenon known as desensitization. Three mechanisms have been suggested to explain this phenomenon: 1) sequestration of the receptors so that they are unavailable for interaction with the ligand; 2) down-regulation, that is, a disappearance of the receptors either by destruction or by decreased synthesis; and 3) an inability to couple to G protein, because the receptor has been phosphorylated on the cytoplasmic side.

Adrenergic Agonists

Adrenergic Agonists

Adrenergic Agonists

Adrenergic Agonists: CHARACTERISTICS OF ADRENERGIC AGONISTS

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Most of the adrenergic drugs are derivatives of β-phenylethylamine. Substitutions on the benzene ring or on the ethylamine side chains produce a variety of compounds with varying abilities to differentiate between α and β receptors and to penetrate the CNS. Two important structural features of these drugs are 1) the number and location of OH substitutions on the benzene ring and 2) the nature of the substituent on the amino nitrogen.

A. Catecholamines

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Sympathomimetic amines that contain the 3,4-dihydroxybenzene group (such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, isoproterenol, and dopamine) are called catecholamines. These compounds share the following properties:

  • High potency: Catecholamines (with –OH groups in the 3 and 4 positions on the benzene ring) show the highest potency in directly activating α or β receptors.
  • Rapid inactivation: Catecholamines are metabolized by COMT postsynaptically and by MAO intraneuronally, as well as by COMT and MAO in the gut wall, and by MAO in the liver. Thus, catecholamines have only a brief period of action when given parenterally, and they are inactivated (ineffective) when administered orally.
  • Poor penetration into the CNS: Catecholamines are polar and,
    therefore, do not readily penetrate into the CNS. Nevertheless,
    most catecholamines have some clinical effects (anxiety, tremor,
    and headaches) that are attributable to action on the CNS.

B. Noncatecholamines

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Compounds lacking the catechol hydroxyl groups have longer halflives, because they are not inactivated by COMT. These include phenylephrine, ephedrine, and amphetamine. These agents are poor substrates for MAO (an important route of metabolism) and, thus, show a prolonged duration of action. Increased lipid solubility of many of the noncatecholamines (due to lack of polar hydroxyl groups) permits greater access to the CNS.

C. Substitutions on the amine nitrogen

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

The nature of the substituent on the amine nitrogen is important in determining β selectivity of the adrenergic agonist. For example, epinephrine, with a –CH3 substituent on the amine nitrogen, is more potent at β receptors than norepinephrine, which has an unsubstituted amine. Similarly, isoproterenol, which has an isopropyl substituent –CH (CH3)2 on the amine nitrogen, is a strong β agonist with little α activity.

D. Mechanism of action of adrenergic agonists

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

  • Direct-acting agonists: These drugs act directly on α or β receptors, producing effects similar to those that occur following stimulation of sympathetic nerves or release of epinephrine from the adrenal medulla. Examples of direct-acting agonists include epinephrine, norepinephrine, isoproterenol, and phenylephrine.
  • Indirect-acting agonists: These agents may block the reuptake of norepinephrine or cause the release of norepinephrine from the cytoplasmic pools or vesicles of the adrenergic neuron. The norepinephrine then traverses the synapse and binds to α or β receptors. Examples of reuptake inhibitors and agents that cause norepinephrine release include cocaine and amphetamines, respectively.
  • Mixed-action agonists: Ephedrine and its stereoisomer, pseudoephedrine, both stimulate adrenoceptors directly and release norepinephrine from the adrenergic neuron.

Adrenergic Agonists

Adrenergic Agonists: DIRECT-ACTING ADRENERGIC AGONISTS

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Direct-acting agonists bind to adrenergic receptors on effector organs without interacting with the presynaptic neuron. As a group, these agents are widely used clinically.

A. Epinephrine

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Epinephrine [ep-i-NEF-rin] is one of the four catecholamines (epinephrine, norepinephrine, dopamine, and dobutamine) commonly used in therapy. The first three are naturally occurring neurotransmitters, and the latter is a synthetic compound. In the adrenal medulla, norepinephrine is methylated to yield epinephrine, which is stored in chromaffin cells along with norepinephrine. On stimulation, the adrenal medulla releases about 80% epinephrine and 20% norepinephrine directly into the circulation. Epinephrine interacts with both α and β receptors. At low doses, β effects (vasodilation) on the vascular system predominate, whereas at high doses, α effects (vasoconstriction) are the strongest.

1. Actions:

  • Cardiovascular: The major actions of epinephrine are on the cardiovascular system. Epinephrine strengthens the contractility of the myocardium (positive inotrope: β1 action) and increases its rate of contraction (positive chronotrope: β1 action). Therefore, cardiac output increases. These effects increase oxygen demands on the myocardium. Epinephrine activates β1 receptors on the kidney to cause renin release. Renin is an enzyme involved in the production of angiotensin II, a potent vasoconstrictor. Epinephrine constricts arterioles in the skin, mucous membranes, and viscera (α effects), and it dilates vessels going to the liver and skeletal muscle (β2 effects). Renal blood flow is decreased. Therefore, the cumulative effect is an increase in systolic blood pressure, coupled with a slight decrease in diastolic pressure due to β2 receptor–mediated vasodilation in the skeletal muscle vascular bed.
  • Respiratory: Epinephrine causes powerful bronchodilation by acting directly on bronchial smooth muscle (β2 action). It also inhibits the release of allergy mediators such as histamines from mast cells.
  • Hyperglycemia: Epinephrine has a significant hyperglycemic effect because of increased glycogenolysis in the liver (β2 effect), increased release of glucagon (β2 effect), and a decreased release of insulin (α2 effect).
  • Lipolysis: Epinephrine initiates lipolysis through agonist activity on the β receptors of adipose tissue. Increased levels of cAMP stimulate a hormone-sensitive lipase, which hydrolyzes triglycerides to free fatty acids and glycerol.

2. Therapeutic uses:

  • Bronchospasm: Epinephrine is the primary drug used in the emergency treatment of respiratory conditions when bronchoconstriction has resulted in diminished respiratory function. Thus, in treatment of acute asthma and anaphylactic shock, epinephrine is the drug of choice and can be life saving in this setting. Within a few minutes after subcutaneous administration, respiratory function greatly improves. However, selective β2 agonists, such as albuterol, are favored in the chronic treatment of asthma because of a longer duration of action and minimal cardiac stimulatory effects.
  • Anaphylactic shock: Epinephrine is the drug of choice for the treatment of type I hypersensitivity reactions (including anaphylaxis) in response to allergens.
  • Cardiac arrest: Epinephrine may be used to restore cardiac rhythm in patients with cardiac arrest.
  • Anesthetics: Local anesthetic solutions may contain low concentrations (for example, 1:100,000 parts) of epinephrine. Epinephrine greatly increases the duration of local anesthesia by producing vasoconstriction at the site of injection. This allows the local anesthetic to persist at the injection site before being absorbed into the systemic circulation. Very weak solutions of epinephrine can also be applied topically to vasoconstrict mucous membranes and control oozing of capillary blood.

3. Pharmacokinetics: Epinephrine has a rapid onset but a brief duration of action (due to rapid degradation). The preferred route is intramuscular (anterior thigh) due to rapid absorption. In emergency situations, epinephrine is given intravenously (IV) for the most rapid onset of action. It may also be given subcutaneously, by endotracheal tube, and by inhalation. It is rapidly metabolized by MAO and COMT, and the metabolites metanephrine and vanillylmandelic acid are excreted in urine.

4. Adverse effects: Epinephrine can produce adverse CNS effects that include anxiety, fear, tension, headache, and tremor. It can trigger cardiac arrhythmias, particularly if the patient is receiving digoxin. Epinephrine can also induce pulmonary edema. Epinephrine may have enhanced cardiovascular actions in patients with hyperthyroidism, and the dose must be reduced in these individuals. Patients with hyperthyroidism may have an increased production of adrenergic receptors in the vasculature, leading to a hypersensitive response. Inhalation anesthetics also sensitize the heart to the effects of epinephrine, which may lead to tachycardia. Epinephrine increases the release of endogenous stores of glucose. In diabetic patients, dosages of insulin may have to be increased. Nonselective β-blockers prevent vasodilatory effects of epinephrine on β2 receptors, leaving α receptor stimulation unopposed. This may lead to increased peripheral resistance and increased blood pressure.

B. Norepinephrine

Because norepinephrine [nor-ep-ih-NEF-rin] is the neurotransmitter of adrenergic nerves, it should, theoretically, stimulate all types of adrenergic receptors. However, when administered in therapeutic doses, the α-adrenergic receptor is most affected.

1. Cardiovascular actions:

  • Vasoconstriction: Norepinephrine causes a rise in peripheral resistance due to intense vasoconstriction of most vascular beds, including the kidney (α1 effect). Both systolic and diastolic blood pressures increase. [Note: Norepinephrine causes greater vasoconstriction than epinephrine, because it does not induce compensatory vasodilation via β2 receptors on blood vessels supplying skeletal muscles. The weak β2 activity of norepinephrine also explains why it is not useful in the treatment of asthma or anaphylaxis.]
  • Baroreceptor reflex: Norepinephrine increases blood pressure, and this stimulates the baroreceptors, inducing a rise in vagal activity. The increased vagal activity produces a reflex bradycardia, which is sufficient to counteract the local actions of norepinephrine on the heart, although the reflex compensation does not affect the positive inotropic effects of the drug. When atropine, which blocks the transmission of vagal effects, is given before norepinephrine, stimulation of the heart by norepinephrine is evident as tachycardia.

2. Therapeutic uses: Norepinephrine is used to treat shock, because it increases vascular resistance and, therefore, increases blood pressure. It has no other clinically significant uses.

3. Pharmacokinetics: Norepinephrine is given IV for rapid onset of action. The duration of action is 1 to 2 minutes, following the end of the infusion. It is rapidly metabolized by MAO and COMT, and inactive metabolites are excreted in the urine.

4. Adverse effects: These are similar to epinephrine. In addition, norepinephrine is a potent vasoconstrictor and may cause blanching and sloughing of skin along an injected vein. If extravasation (leakage of drug from the vessel into tissues surrounding the injection site) occurs, it can cause tissue necrosis. It should not be administered in peripheral veins, if possible. Impaired circulation from norepinephrine may be treated with the α receptor antagonist phentolamine.

Adrenergic Agonists

Adrenergic Agonists

C. Isoproterenol

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Isoproterenol [eye-soe-proe-TER-e-nole] is a direct-acting synthetic catecholamine that stimulates both β1- and β2-adrenergic receptors. Its nonselectivity is one of its drawbacks and the reason why it is rarely used therapeutically. Its action on α receptors is insignificant. Isoproterenol produces intense stimulation of the heart, increasing heart rate, contractility, and cardiac output (Figure 6.12). It is as active as epinephrine in this action. Isoproterenol also dilates the arterioles of skeletal muscle (β2 effect), resulting in decreased peripheral resistance. Because of its cardiac stimulatory action, it may increase systolic blood pressure slightly, but it greatly reduces mean arterial and diastolic blood pressures (Figure 6.12). Isoproterenol is a potent bronchodilator (β2 effect). The use of isoproterenol has largely been replaced with other drugs, but it may be useful in atrioventricular (AV) block. The adverse effects of isoproterenol are similar to those of epinephrine.

D. Dopamine

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Dopamine [DOE-pa-meen], the immediate metabolic precursor of norepinephrine, occurs naturally in the CNS in the basal ganglia, where it functions as a neurotransmitter, as well as in the adrenal medulla. Dopamine can activate α- and β-adrenergic receptors. For example, at higher doses, it causes vasoconstriction by activating α1 receptors, whereas at lower doses, it stimulates β1 cardiac receptors. In addition, D1 and D2 dopaminergic receptors, distinct from the α- and β-adrenergic receptors, occur in the peripheral mesenteric and renal vascular beds, where binding of dopamine produces vasodilation. D2 receptors are also found on presynaptic adrenergic neurons, where their activation interferes with norepinephrine release.

1. Actions:

  • Cardiovascular: Dopamine exerts a stimulatory effect on the β1 receptors of the heart, having both positive inotropic and chronotropic effects. At very high doses, dopamine activates α1 receptors on the vasculature, resulting in vasoconstriction.
  • Renal and visceral: Dopamine dilates renal and splanchnic arterioles by activating dopaminergic receptors, thereby increasing blood flow to the kidneys and other viscera. These receptors are not affected by α- or β-blocking drugs. Therefore, dopamine is clinically useful in the treatment of shock, in which significant increases in sympathetic activity might compromise renal function.

2. Therapeutic uses: Dopamine is the drug of choice for cardiogenic and septic shock and is given by continuous infusion. It raises blood pressure by stimulating the β1 receptors on the heart to increase cardiac output and α1 receptors on blood vessels to increase total peripheral resistance. In addition, it enhances perfusion to the kidney and splanchnic areas, as described above. Increased blood flow to the kidney enhances the glomerular filtration rate and causes diuresis. In this regard, dopamine is far superior to norepinephrine, which diminishes blood supply to the kidney and may cause renal shutdown. It is also used to treat hypotension and severe heart failure, primarily in patients with low or normal peripheral vascular resistance and in patients who have oliguria.

3. Adverse effects: An overdose of dopamine produces the same effects as sympathetic stimulation. Dopamine is rapidly metabolized by MAO or COMT, and its adverse effects (nausea, hypertension, and arrhythmias) are, therefore, short-lived.

Adrenergic Agonists

E. Fenoldopam

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Fenoldopam [fen-OL-de-pam] is an agonist of peripheral dopamine D1 receptors. It is used as a rapid-acting vasodilator to treat severe hypertension in hospitalized patients, acting on coronary arteries, kidney arterioles, and mesenteric arteries. Fenoldopam is a racemic mixture, and the R-isomer is the active component. It undergoes extensive first-pass metabolism and has a 10-minute elimination half-life after IV infusion. Headache, flushing, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and tachycardia (due to vasodilation) may be observed with this agent.

F. Dobutamine

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Dobutamine [doe-BYOO-ta-meen] is a synthetic, direct-acting catecholamine that is a β1 receptor agonist. It increases cardiac rate and output with few vascular effects. Dobutamine is used to increase cardiac output in acute heart failure, as well as for inotropic support after cardiac surgery. The drug increases cardiac output and does not significantly elevate oxygen demands of the myocardium, a major advantage over other sympathomimetic drugs. Dobutamine should be used with caution in atrial fibrillation, because it increases AV conduction. Other adverse effects are similar to epinephrine. Tolerance may develop with prolonged use.

G. Oxymetazoline

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Oxymetazoline [OX-ee-mee-TAZ-ih-leen] is a direct-acting synthetic adrenergic agonist that stimulates both α1- and α2-adrenergic receptors. Oxymetazoline is found in many over-the-counter short-term nasal spray decongestants, as well as in ophthalmic drops for the relief of redness of the eyes associated with swimming, colds, and contact lenses. Oxymetazoline directly stimulates α receptors on blood vessels supplying the nasal mucosa and conjunctiva, thereby producing vasoconstriction and decreasing congestion. It is absorbed in the systemic circulation regardless of the route of administration and may produce nervousness, headaches, and trouble sleeping. Local irritation and sneezing may occur with intranasal administration. Rebound congestion and dependence are observed with long-term use.

H. Phenylephrine

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Phenylephrine [fen-ill-EF-reen] is a direct-acting, synthetic adrenergic drug that binds primarily to α1 receptors. Phenylephrine is a vasoconstrictor that raises both systolic and diastolic blood pressures. It has no effect on the heart itself but, rather, induces reflex bradycardia when given parenterally. The drug is used to treat hypotension in hospitalized or surgical patients (especially those with a rapid heart rate). Large doses can cause hypertensive headache and cardiac irregularities. Phenylephrine acts as a nasal decongestant when applied topically or taken orally. Phenylephrine has replaced pseudoephedrine in many oral decongestants, since pseudoephedrine has been misused to make methamphetamine. Phenylephrine is also used in ophthalmic solutions for mydriasis.

I. Clonidine

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Clonidine [KLOE-ni-deen] is an α2 agonist that is used for the treatment of hypertension. It can also be used to minimize the symptoms that accompany withdrawal from opiates, tobacco smoking, and benzodiazepines. Clonidine acts centrally on presynaptic α2 receptors to produce inhibition of sympathetic vasomotor centers, decreasing sympathetic outflow to the periphery. The most common side effects of clonidine are lethargy, sedation, constipation, and xerostomia. Abrupt discontinuance must be avoided to prevent rebound hypertension.

J. Albuterol and terbutaline

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Albuterol [al-BYOO-ter-ole] and terbutaline [ter-BYOO-te-leen] are short-acting β2 agonists used primarily as bronchodilators and administered by a metered-dose inhaler. Albuterol is the short-acting β2 agonist of choice for the management of acute asthma symptoms. Inhaled terbutaline is no longer available in the United States, but is still used in other countries. Terbutaline is also used off-label as a uterine relaxant to suppress premature labor. One of the most common side effects of these agents is tremor, but patients tend to develop tolerance to this effect. Other side effects include restlessness, apprehension, and anxiety. When these drugs are administered orally, they may cause tachycardia or arrhythmia (due to β1 receptor activation), especially in patients with underlying cardiac disease. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) also increase the risk of adverse cardiovascular effects, and concomitant use should be avoided.

K. Salmeterol and formoterol

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Salmeterol [sal-ME-ter-ole] and formoterol [for-MOH-ter-ole] are long acting β agonists (LABAs) that are β2 selective. A single dose by a metered-dose inhalation device, such as a dry powder inhaler, provides sustained bronchodilation over 12 hours, compared with less than 3 hours for albuterol. Unlike formoterol, however, salmeterol has a somewhat delayed onset of action. These agents are not recommended as monotherapy, but are highly efficacious when combined with a corticosteroid. Salmeterol and formoterol are the agents of choice for treating nocturnal asthma in symptomatic patients taking other asthma medications. LABAs have been shown to increase the risk of asthma-related deaths.

L. Mirabegron

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Mirabegron [mir-a-BEG-ron] is a β3 agonist that relaxes the detrusor smooth muscle and increases bladder capacity. It is used for patients with overactive bladder. Mirabegron may increase blood pressure and should not be used in patients with uncontrolled hypertension. It increases levels of digoxin and also inhibits the CYP2D6 isozyme, which may enhance the effects of other medications metabolized by this pathway (for example, metoprolol).

Adrenergic Agonists

Adrenergic Agonists: INDIRECT-ACTING ADRENERGIC AGONISTS

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Indirect-acting adrenergic agonists cause the release, inhibit the reuptake, or inhibit the degradation of epinephrine or norepinephrine. They potentiate the effects of epinephrine or norepinephrine produced endogenously, but do not directly affect postsynaptic receptors.

A. Amphetamine

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

The marked central stimulatory action of amphetamine [am-FET-ameen] is often mistaken by drug abusers as its only action. However, the drug can also increase blood pressure significantly by α1 agonist action on the vasculature, as well as β1-stimulatory effects on the heart. Its actions are mediated primarily through an increase in nonvesicular release of catecholamines such as dopamine and norepinephrine from nerve terminals. Thus, amphetamine is an indirect-acting adrenergic drug. The actions and therapeutic uses of amphetamine and its derivatives are discussed under stimulants of the CNS.

B. Tyramine

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Tyramine [TIE-ra-meen] is not a clinically useful drug, but it is important because it is found in fermented foods, such as aged cheese and Chianti wine. It is a normal by-product of tyrosine metabolism. Normally, it is oxidized by MAO in the gastrointestinal tract, but, if the patient is taking MAOIs, it can precipitate serious vasopressor episodes. Like amphetamines, tyramine can enter the nerve terminal and displace stored norepinephrine. The released catecholamine then acts on adrenoceptors.

C. Cocaine

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Cocaine [koe-KANE] is unique among local anesthetics in having the ability to block the sodium-chloride (Na+/Cl-)-dependent norepinephrine transporter required for cellular uptake of norepinephrine into the adrenergic neuron. Consequently, norepinephrine accumulates in the synaptic space, resulting in enhanced sympathetic activity and potentiation of the actions of epinephrine and norepinephrine. Therefore, small doses of the catecholamines produce greatly magnified effects in an individual taking cocaine. In addition, the duration of action of epinephrine and norepinephrine is increased. Like amphetamines, it can increase blood pressure by α1 agonist actions and β stimulatory effects.

Adrenergic Agonists

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Adrenergic Agonists: MIXED-ACTION ADRENERGIC AGONISTS

Focus topic: Adrenergic Agonists

Ephedrine [eh-FED-rin] and pseudoephedrine [soo-doe-eh-FED-rin] are mixed-action adrenergic agents. They not only release stored norepinephrine from nerve endings but also directly stimulate both α and β receptors. Thus, a wide variety of adrenergic actions ensue that are similar to those of epinephrine, although less potent. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are not catechols and are poor substrates for COMT and MAO. Therefore, these drugs have a long duration of action. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine have excellent absorption orally and penetrate into the CNS, but pseudoephedrine has fewer CNS effects. Ephedrine is eliminated largely unchanged in urine, and pseudoephedrine undergoes incomplete hepatic metabolism  before elimination in urine. Ephedrine raises systolic and diastolic blood pressures by vasoconstriction and cardiac stimulation and can be used to treat hypotension. Ephedrine produces bronchodilation, but it is less potent and slower acting than epinephrine or isoproterenol. It was previously used to prevent asthma attacks but has been replaced by more effective medications. Ephedrine produces a mild stimulation of the CNS. This increases alertness, decreases fatigue, and prevents sleep. It also improves athletic performance. [Note: The clinical use of ephedrine is declining because of the availability of better, more potent agents that cause fewer adverse effects. Ephedrine-containing herbal supplements (mainly ephedra-containing products) have been banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration because of lifethreatening cardiovascular reactions.] Pseudoephedrine is primarily used orally to treat nasal and sinus congestion. Pseudoephedrine has been illegally used to produce methamphetamine. Therefore,products containing pseudoephedrine have certain restrictions and must be kept behind the sales counter in the United States.

Adrenergic Agonists

Adrenergic Agonists

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