Pharmacokinetic–pharmacodynamic relationships of central nervous system effects of scopolamine in healthy subjects

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Although scopolamine is a frequently used memory impairment model, the relationships between exposure and corresponding central nervous system (CNS) effects are mostly unknown. The aim of our study was to characterize these using pharmacokinetic–pharmacodynamic (PK–PD) modelling.


In two double-blind, placebo-controlled, four-way crossover studies, 0.5-mg scopolamine was administered i.v. to 90 healthy male subjects. PK and PD/safety measures were monitored pre-dose and up to 8.5 h after administration. PK–PD relationships were modelled using non-linear mixed-effect modelling.


Most PD responses following scopolamine administration in 85 subjects differed significantly from placebo. As PD measures lagged behind the plasma PK profile, PK–PD relationships were modelled using an effect compartment and arbitrarily categorized according to their equilibration half-lives (t1/2keo; hysteresis measure). t1/2keo for heart rate was 17 min, saccadic eye movements and adaptive tracking 1–1.5 h, body sway, smooth pursuit, visual analogue scales alertness and psychedelic 2.5–3.5 h, pupil size, finger tapping and visual analogue scales feeling high more than 8 h.


Scopolamine affected different CNS functions in a concentration-dependent manner, which based on their distinct PK–PD characteristics seemed to reflect multiple distinct functional pathways of the cholinergic system. All PD effects showed considerable albeit variable delays compared with plasma concentrations. The t1/2keo of the central effects was longer than of the peripheral effects on heart rate, which at least partly reflects the long CNS retention of scopolamine, but possibly also the triggering of independent secondary mechanisms. PK–PD analysis can optimize scopolamine administration regimens for future research and give insight into the physiology and pharmacology of human cholinergic systems.

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