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JH, a 63-year-old architect, complains of urinary symptoms to his family physician. He has hypertension, and during the last 8 years, he has been adequately managed with a thiazide diuretic and an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor. During the same period, JH developed the signs of benign prostatic hypertrophy, which eventually required prostatectomy to relieve symptoms. He now complains that he has an increased urge to urinate as well as urinary frequency, and this has disrupted the pattern of his daily life. What do you suspect is the cause of JH’s problem? What information would you gather to confirm your diagnosis? What treatment steps would you initiate?

Cholinoceptor antagonists, like agonists, are divided into muscarinic and nicotinic subgroups on the basis of their specific receptor affinities. Ganglion blockers and neuromuscular junction blockers make up the antinicotinic drugs. The ganglion-blocking drugs have little clinical use and are discussed at the end of this chapter. Neuromuscular blockers are discussed in Chapter 27. This chapter emphasizes drugs that block muscarinic cholinoceptors.

Five subtypes of muscarinic receptors have been identified, primarily on the basis of data from ligand-binding and cDNA-cloning experiments (see Chapters 6 and 7). A standard terminology (M1 through M5) for these subtypes is now in common use, and evidence—based mostly on selective agonists and antagonists—indicates that functional differences exist between several of these subtypes. The X-ray crystallographic structures of the M2 and M3 subtypes of muscarinic receptors have been reported with inverse agonist or antagonist bound to the receptor. There are subtle but important differences in the structures of the two ­subtypes, particularly in the region of the ligand-binding pocket. More detailed structural data would facilitate rational development of orthosteric and allosteric drugs selective for a subtype. The M1 receptor subtype is located on central nervous system (CNS) neurons, autonomic postganglionic cell bodies, and many presynaptic sites. M2 receptors are located in the myocardium, smooth muscle organs, and some neuronal sites. M3 receptors are most common on effector cell membranes, especially glandular and smooth muscle cells. M4 and M5 receptors are less prominent and appear to play a greater role in the CNS than in the ­periphery.


Muscarinic antagonists are sometimes called parasympatholytic because they block the effects of parasympathetic autonomic discharge. However, the term “antimuscarinic” is preferable.

Naturally occurring compounds with antimuscarinic effects have been known and used for millennia as medicines, poisons, and cosmetics. Atropine is the prototype of these drugs. Many similar plant alkaloids are known, and hundreds of synthetic antimuscarinic compounds have been prepared.

Chemistry & Pharmacokinetics

A. Source and Chemistry

Atropine and its naturally occurring congeners are tertiary amine alkaloid esters of tropic acid (Figure 8–1). Atropine (hyoscyamine) is found ...

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