alpha2-Adrenoceptor activation by clonidine enhances stimulation-evoked acetylcholine release from spinal cord tissue after nerve ligation in rats

Anesthesiology. 2005 Mar;102(3):657-62. doi: 10.1097/00000542-200503000-00027.


Background: Spinally administered clonidine produces analgesia via alpha2-adrenergic receptors. The analgesic potency of clonidine and its dependency on muscarinic acetylcholine receptors increase in rats after nerve injury. The authors hypothesized that these changes reflect greater acetylcholine release from the spinal cord by clonidine, either through direct or indirect effects.

Methods: Male Sprague-Dawley rats were divided into two groups: no surgery or left L5 and L6 spinal nerve ligation (SNL). All experiments were performed 3 weeks after SNL. Crude synaptosomes were prepared from the spinal enlargement and loaded with [H]choline. Samples were incubated with clonidine in the absence or presence of KCl depolarization. The authors also examined the effect of clonidine on KCl evoked acetylcholine release using perfusion of spinal cord slices, in which some spinal circuitry is maintained.

Results: In synaptosomes, clonidine alone induced minimal acetylcholine release, which was actually greater in tissue from normal rats than in tissue from SNL rats. In the presence of KCl depolarization, however, clonidine enhanced acetylcholine release in tissue from SNL rats but inhibited release in tissue from normal rats. Similarly, in spinal cord slices, clonidine enhanced KCl evoked acetylcholine release in tissue from SNL animals but inhibited such release in tissue from normal animals. The alpha2-adrenoceptor antagonist idazoxan inhibited the effects of clonidine in slices from SNL rats.

Conclusion: These results suggest that clonidine enhances depolarization-induced acetylcholine release in neuropathic but not in normal spinal cord tissue. Interestingly, this enhanced acetylcholine release by clonidine occurs in a synaptosomal preparation, consistent with a direct effect on alpha2 adrenoceptors on cholinergic terminals. Enhanced release of acetylcholine by clonidine could contribute to increased analgesia of clonidine in neuropathic pain.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism*
  • Analgesics / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Clonidine / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Pain / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2 / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2 / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / drug effects*
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism
  • Synaptosomes / drug effects
  • Synaptosomes / metabolism


  • Analgesics
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2
  • Clonidine
  • Acetylcholine