The influence of age on propofol pharmacodynamics

Anesthesiology. 1999 Jun;90(6):1502-16. doi: 10.1097/00000542-199906000-00003.


Background: The authors studied the influence of age on the pharmacodynamics of propofol, including characterization of the relation between plasma concentration and the time course of drug effect.

Methods: The authors evaluated healthy volunteers aged 25-81 yr. A bolus dose (2 mg/kg or 1 mg/kg in persons older than 65 yr) and an infusion (25, 50, 100, or 200 microg x kg(-1) x min(-1)) of the older or the new (containing EDTA) formulation of propofol were given on each of two different study days. The propofol concentration was determined in frequent arterial samples. The electroencephalogram (EEG) was used to measure drug effect. A statistical technique called semilinear canonical correlation was used to select components of the EEG power spectrum that correlated optimally with the effect-site concentration. The effect-site concentration was related to drug effect with a biphasic pharmacodynamic model. The plasma effect-site equilibration rate constant was estimated parametrically. Estimates of this rate constant were validated by comparing the predicted time of peak effect with the time of peak EEG effect. The probability of being asleep, as a function of age, was determined from steady state concentrations after 60 min of propofol infusion.

Results: Twenty-four volunteers completed the study. Three parameters of the biphasic pharmacodynamic model were correlated linearly with age. The plasma effect-site equilibration rate constant was 0.456 min(-1). The predicted time to peak effect after bolus injection ranging was 1.7 min. The time to peak effect assessed visually was 1.6 min (range, 1-2.4 min). The steady state observations showed increasing sensitivity to propofol in elderly patients, with C50 values for loss of consciousness of 2.35, 1.8, and 1.25 microg/ml in volunteers who were 25, 50, and 75 yr old, respectively.

Conclusions: Semilinear canonical correlation defined a new measure of propofol effect on the EEG, the canonical univariate parameter for propofol. Using this parameter, propofol plasma effect-site equilibration is faster than previously reported. This fast onset was confirmed by inspection of the EEG data. Elderly patients are more sensitive to the hypnotic and EEG effects of propofol than are younger persons.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Anesthetics, Intravenous / pharmacology*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Electroencephalography / drug effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological
  • Propofol / pharmacokinetics
  • Propofol / pharmacology*


  • Anesthetics, Intravenous
  • Propofol