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Interaction of physostigmine and alfentanil in a human pain model



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Br J Anaesth. 2010 Mar;104(3):359-68. doi: 10.1093/bja/aep372. Epub 2010 Jan 3.

Interaction of physostigmine and alfentanil in a human pain model.

Wehrfritz AP1, Ihmsen H, Schmidt S, Müller C, Filitz J, Schüttler J, Koppert W.

  • 1Department of Anaesthesiology, University Hospital Erlangen, Krankenhausstrasse 12, D-91054, Erlangen, Germany.


Preclinical and clinical studies suggest an important role for cholinesterase inhibitors in pain therapy. The aim of this study was to examine the analgesic and antihyperalgesic properties of the cholinesterase inhibitor physostigmine and the opioid alfentanil, alone and in combination, in an experimental pain model in humans.


Twenty healthy volunteers were enrolled in this double-blind and placebo-controlled cross-over study. Transcutaneous electrical stimulation at high current densities induced spontaneous acute pain and stable areas of hyperalgesia for painful mechanical stimuli (pinprick-hyperalgesia). Pain intensities, measured on a numeric rating scale (NRS) from 0 to 10, and the extent of the hyperalgesic areas were assessed before, during, and 145 min after i.v. infusions of physostigmine (30 microg kg(-1) in 15 min), alfentanil (20 microg kg(-1) in 2 min), the combination of the same doses of both drugs, or saline 0.9%. The type of interaction was determined by fitting an interaction model to the data.


Starting from a baseline value of NRS=6, the maximum reduction of pain intensity was 50.4 (sd 22.3) % after alfentanil, 35.4 (20.0) % after physostigmine, and 60.4 (17.1) % after the combination. The hyperalgesic areas were reduced by 53.8 (33.2) %, 47.0 (26.3) %, and 54.8 (33.2) %, respectively. The data were best described by a model assuming an infra-additive interaction for analgesic and antihyperalgesic effects.


Physostigmine and alfentanil showed distinct effects on pain and hyperalgesia in a human pain model. The interaction of both drugs was found to be infra-additive.



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