Influence of Fentanyl, Alfentanil, and Sufentanil on Motor Evoked Potentials

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The effects of the opioids fentanyl, alfentanil, and sufentanil on motor pathways were studied in a total of 30 rabbits. Compound muscle action potentials (CMAP) were recorded from the extensor muscles of the upper extremity as well as evoked spinal cord potentials (ESCP) from the thoracic epidural space in response to electrical stimulation of the motor cortex. After establishing stable baseline values, an equipotent intravenous bolus of one of the three opioids was applied that abolished reflex motor response to noxious stimulation. Motor evoked potentials (MEP) were recorded from the time of bolus administration until recovery of MEP amplitudes and latencies. Afterwards, the opioids were administered continuously with cumulative dosage up to total absence of motor evoked response. Our results show a dose-dependent suppression of the CMAP: When reflex movement to noxious stimulation was extinguished, we found a significant (P <.001) reduction of the amplitudes to 34 ± 18% (mean ± SD) in the fentanyl group, to 43 ± 24% in the alfentanil group, and to 53 ± 20% of baseline values in the sufentanil group. Increasing opioid plasma levels were associated with complete extinction of the CMAP. We hypothesize that the descending volleys within motor pathways are mainly inhibited at a spinal level, because ESCP, particularly the number of spinal I-waves, are not severely affected even when CMAP are completely suppressed. In conclusion, intraoperative monitoring of descending pathways by means of MEP during anesthesia with opioids is feasible at anesthetic plasma concentrations maintaining a surgical level of analgesia. Even with high opioid plasma levels, a valid MEP monitoring could be performed evaluating neural activity of spinal MEP.

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