Sedation with Dexmedetomidine or Propofol Impairs Hypoxic Control of Breathing in Healthy Male Volunteers: A Nonblinded, Randomized Crossover Study

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Background:In contrast to general anesthetics such as propofol, dexmedetomidine when used for sedation has been put forward as a drug with minimal effects on respiration. To obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the regulation of breathing during sedation with dexmedetomidine, the authors compared ventilatory responses to hypoxia and hypercapnia during sedation with dexmedetomidine and propofol.Methods:Eleven healthy male volunteers entered this randomized crossover study. Sedation was administered as an intravenous bolus followed by an infusion and monitored by Observer’s Assessment of Alertness/Sedation (OAA/S) scale, Richmond Agitation Sedation Scale, and Bispectral Index Score. Hypoxic and hypercapnic ventilatory responses were measured at rest, during sedation (OAA/S 2 to 4), and after recovery. Drug exposure was verified with concentration analysis in plasma.Results:Ten subjects completed the study. The OAA/S at the sedation goal was 3 (3 to 4) (median [minimum to maximum]) for both drugs. Bispectral Index Score was 82 ± 8 and 75 ± 3, and the drug concentrations in plasma at the sedation target were 0.66 ± 0.14 ng/ml and 1.26 ± 0.36 μg/ml for dexmedetomidine and propofol, respectively. Compared with baseline, sedation reduced hypoxic ventilation to 59 and 53% and the hypercapnic ventilation to 82 and 86% for dexmedetomidine and propofol, respectively. In addition, some volunteers displayed upper airway obstruction and episodes of apnea during sedation.Conclusions:Dexmedetomidine-induced sedation reduces ventilatory responses to hypoxia and hypercapnia to a similar extent as sedation with propofol. This finding implies that sedation with dexmedetomidine interacts with both peripheral and central control of breathing.

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