Central respiratory failure during acute organophosphate poisoning

Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2013 Nov 1;189(2):403-10. doi: 10.1016/j.resp.2013.07.022. Epub 2013 Aug 7.


Organophosphate (OP) pesticide poisoning is a global health problem with over 250,000 deaths per year. OPs affect neuronal signaling through acetylcholine (Ach) neurotransmission via inhibition of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), leading to accumulation of Ach at the synaptic cleft and excessive stimulation at post-synaptic receptors. Mortality due to OP agents is attributed to respiratory dysfunction, including central apnea. Cholinergic circuits are integral to many aspects of the central control of respiration, however it is unclear which mechanisms predominate during acute OP intoxication. A more complete understanding of the cholinergic aspects of both respiratory control as well as neural modification of pulmonary function is needed to better understand OP-induced respiratory dysfunction. In this article, we review the physiologic mechanisms of acute OP exposure in the context of the known cholinergic contributions to the central control of respiration. We also discuss the potential central cholinergic contributions to the known peripheral physiologic effects of OP intoxication.

Keywords: Central respiratory control; Cholinergic neurons; Organophosphates; Pre-Botzinger complex; Respiratory oscillators.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / drug effects
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Organophosphate Poisoning / complications*
  • Organophosphate Poisoning / diagnosis
  • Organophosphate Poisoning / physiopathology*
  • Organophosphorus Compounds / toxicity
  • Respiratory Center / drug effects
  • Respiratory Center / physiology*
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / complications*
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / diagnosis
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / physiopathology*


  • Organophosphorus Compounds