Acetylcholine–Atropine Interactions: Paradoxical Effects on Atrial Fibrillation Inducibility

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Atropine (ATr) is well known as a cholinergic antagonist, however, at low concentrations ATr could paradoxically accentuate the parasympathetic actions of acetylcholine (ACh). In 22 pentobarbital anesthetized dogs, via a left and right thoracotomy, a leak-proof barrier was attached to isolate the atrial appendages (AAs) from the rest of the atria. In group 1 (Ach+ATr+Ach), ACh, 100 mM, was placed on the AA followed by the application of ATr, 2 mg/mL. The average atrial fibrillation (AF) duration was 17 ± 7 minutes. After ATr was applied to the AA and ACh again tested, the AF duration was markedly attenuated (2 ± 2 minutes, P < 0.05). In group 2 (ATr+Ach), ATr was initially applied to the AA followed by the application of ACh, 100 mM. There was no significant difference in AF duration (16 ± 4 minutes vs. 18 ± 2 minutes, P = NS). The inhibitory effect of ATr on induced HR reduction (electrical stimulation of the anterior right ganglionated plexi and vagal nerves) was similar between groups 1 and 2. These observations suggest that when ATr is initially administered it attaches to the allosteric site of the muscarinic ACh receptor (M2) leaving the orthosteric site free to be occupied by ACh. The M3 receptor that controls HR slowing does not show the same allosteric properties.

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