Objectives: The aim of this study was to determine whether cocaine's sympathomimetic actions can be reversed by a potent centrally acting alpha2 adrenergic receptor (AR) agonist (dexmedetomidine).
Background: We recently showed that cocaine stimulates the human cardiovascular system primarily by acting in the brain to increase sympathetic nerve activity (SNA), the neural stimulus to norepinephrine release. Thus, SNA constitutes a putative new drug target to block cocaine's adverse cardiovascular effects at their origin.
Methods: In 22 healthy cocaine-naïve humans, we measured skin SNA (microneurography) and skin blood flow (laser Doppler velocimetry) as well as heart rate and blood pressure before and after intranasal cocaine (2 mg/kg) alone and in combination with dexmedetomidine or saline.
Results: During intranasal cocaine alone, SNA increased by 2-fold and skin vascular resistance increased from 13.2 +/- 2.3 to 20.1 +/- 2.2 resistance units while mean arterial pressure increased by 14 +/- 3 mm Hg and heart rate by 18 +/- 3 beats/min (p < 0.01). Dexmedetomidine abolished these increases, whereas intravenous saline was without effect. Dexmedetomidine was effective in blocking these sympathomimetic actions of cocaine even in all 7 subjects who were homozygous for the Del322-325 polymorphism in the alpha2C AR, a loss-of-function mutation that is highly enriched in blacks.
Conclusions: The data advance the novel hypothesis that central sympatholysis with dexmedetomidine constitutes a highly effective countermeasure for cocaine's sympathomimetic actions on the human cardiovascular system, even in individuals carrying the alpha2CDel322-325 polymorphism. (Study to Improve Scientific Understanding of the Cardiovascular Actions of Cocaine; http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct/show/NCT00338546?order=1; NCT00338546).