Objectives: Current evidence suggests that mortality from acute organophosphate (OP) poisoning is partially mediated through central nervous system (CNS) respiratory center depression (CRD). However, the exact mechanism of OP-induced CRD is unknown. In these studies, the authors investigated the hypothesis that OP-induced CRD is the result of overstimulation of CNS respiratory centers.
Methods: Wistar rats received prophylaxis with either normal saline (controls), atropine, the peripherally acting anticholinergics glycopyrrolate (GLYC), ipratropium bromide (IB), or the CNS respiratory center attenuator diazepam. To determine if a dual CNS/peripheral cholinergic mechanism is responsible for animal death, two additional groups received combination treatment with diazepam plus either IB or GLYC. All treatments were completed 5 minutes before OP with subcutaneous dichlorvos. Differences in 10-minute and 24-hour mortality were assessed by the Fisher exact test.
Results: Dichlorvos poisoning resulted in profound fasciculations without obvious seizure in all cohorts. In controls and animals treated with peripherally acting anticholinergics, fasciculations were followed by sedation and respiratory arrest (0% 10-minute survival in all cohorts). In contrast, pretreatment with either atropine or diazepam significantly improved 10-minute survival (100% and 44%, respectively). Although GLYC or IB afforded no protection when given alone, when delivered in conjunction with diazepam, the combination significantly improved survival (both groups 88% at 24 hours), suggesting a dual CNS/pulmonary muscarinic mechanism of lethality.
Conclusions: The central respiratory depressant diazepam paradoxically attenuates organophosphate-induced respiratory depression, and when combined with peripherally acting anticholinergic agents, reduces mortality in a rat model of severe acute OP poisoning.