Comparative spinal neurotoxicity of prilocaine and lidocaine

Anesthesiology. 2002 Nov;97(5):1250-3. doi: 10.1097/00000542-200211000-00031.


Background: Reports of major and minor sequelae following lidocaine spinal anesthesia have generated interest in an alternative short-acting intrathecal agent. Of the available anesthetics suitable for short-duration spinal anesthesia, prilocaine is perhaps the most promising agent. However, data comparing the neurotoxicity of these agents are lacking. Accordingly, the present experiments investigate whether prilocaine and lidocaine differ with respect to sensory impairment and histologic damage when administered intrathecally in the rat.

Methods: Ninety rats were divided into three groups to receive an intrathecal infusion of 2.5% prilocaine in saline, 2.5% lidocaine in saline, or normal saline. The animals were assessed for persistent sensory impairment 4 days after anesthetic administration using the tail-flick test. Three days later, the animals were killed, and specimens of the spinal cord and nerve roots were obtained for histopathologic examination.

Results: Prilocaine and lidocaine produced equivalent elevations in tail-flick latency that differed significantly from saline. Histologic injury scores with prilocaine were greater than with lidocaine, but this difference did not reach statistical significance.

Conclusions: The propensity for persistent functional impairment or morphologic damage with intrathecal prilocaine is at least as great as with lidocaine. Although the substitution of prilocaine for lidocaine may reduce the incidence of transient neurologic symptoms, it is unlikely to reduce the risk of actual neural injury. This discrepancy may indicate that transient neurologic symptoms and neurologic deficits after spinal anesthesia are not mediated by the same mechanism.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics, Local / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Lidocaine / toxicity*
  • Male
  • Prilocaine / toxicity*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Spinal Cord / drug effects*
  • Spinal Cord / pathology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology


  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Prilocaine
  • Lidocaine