Background: The influence of changes in the physiologic state of a patient on the disposition of fentanyl and alfentanil is poorly understood. The aims of this study were to determine whether physiologic pharmacokinetic models for fentanyl and alfentanil, based on data from rats, could predict plasma concentrations of these opioids in humans and to determine how changes in physiology would influence the predictions of their disposition.
Methods: The predictions of the models were tested against plasma concentration data from published pharmacokinetic studies. The influences of changes in body composition, cardiac output, and regional blood flows on the disposition of the opioids were simulated.
Results: The models could predict independently measured plasma concentrations of the opioids after short infusions in humans. Simulations then predicted that differences in body composition between men and women would have little influence on the pharmacokinetics of the opioids. Changes in cardiac output would affect drug redistribution, and consequently the early decay of the plasma concentrations, but not markedly influence rates of elimination. Further, the clearance of the opioids would decrease and their volumes of distribution increase with the age of the patient, but this would only marginally affect the early disposition of the drugs. Even large fluctuations in peripheral or hepatic blood flows would have modest effects on arterial plasma concentrations of the opioids, and sudden "postoperative" increases in peripheral blood flows would cause minor secondary plasma concentration peaks.
Conclusions: The ability of the physiologic models to predict plasma concentrations of fentanyl and alfentanil in humans was confirmed. When changes in physiologic condition were simulated, effects on the pharmacokinetics of the opioids with possible implications for dosing were obtained only if cardiac output was varied over a wide range.