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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

The in vitro degradation of cisatracurium, the R, cis-R'-isomer of atracurium, in human and rat plasma.

OBJECTIVE: To assess the mechanism and rate of in vitro degradation of cisatracurium in aqueous buffer and in human and rat plasma. METHODS: Cisatracurium was incubated in aqueous buffer at various pH values or in human and rat plasma maintained at pH 7.4 with HEPES buffer. Cisatracurium and the degradation products, laudanosine and the monoquaternary alcohol, were quantitated by HPLC with use of fluorescence detection. RESULTS: In Sørenson's phosphate buffer, cisatracurium degraded spontaneously by a chemical process commonly referred to as "Hofmann elimination." The rate of degradation increased with increasing pH. From pH 6.4 to 7.8 there was a 6.5-fold increase in the rate of degradation of cisatracurium and, on a molar basis, the final decomposition product laudanosine accounted for all of the drug. At a pH of 7.4, cisatracurium degraded with a half-life of about 34.1 +/- 2.1 minutes. Cisatracurium incubated in human plasma degraded with a mean (+/- SD) half-life of 29.2 +/- 3.8 minutes, which is consistent with Hofmann elimination. Besides laudanosine, and unlike that observed in Sørenson's phosphate buffer, significant amounts of the monoquaternary alcohol were formed that slowly degraded to laudanosine. The micromoles of laudanosine formed eventually accounted for the total amount of cisatracurium incubated with human plasma. The monoquaternary alcohol appears to be a product of ester hydrolysis of a monoquaternary acrylate formed during the first step in Hofmann elimination. Evidence for esterase involvement at this step in the degradation of cisatracurium was based on inhibition studies with O-cresyl benzodioxaphosphorin oxide (CBDP), a specific carboxylesterase inhibitor. The addition of CBDP to human plasma completely blocked the formation of monoquaternary alcohol and converted the degradation of cisatracurium to total Hofmann elimination. In rat plasma cisatracurium was hydrolyzed, with a half-life of only 3 1/2 minutes, by carboxylesterases. The addition of CBDP increased the half-life to 25 minutes, which is consistent with Hofmann elimination. CONCLUSION: In human plasma the rate-limiting step in the degradation of cisatracurium is Hofmann elimination, with the initial formation of a monoquaternary acrylate. The observation that the monoquaternary alcohol results from ester hydrolysis of the monoquaternary acrylate by plasma esterase(s) explains the presence of the monoquaternary alcohol metabolite in human plasma during clinical studies with cisatracurium. The rapid hydrolysis of cisatracurium by rat plasma relative to human indicates a major species difference in plasma esterase(s).[1]


  1. The in vitro degradation of cisatracurium, the R, cis-R'-isomer of atracurium, in human and rat plasma. Welch, R.M., Brown, A., Ravitch, J., Dahl, R. Clin. Pharmacol. Ther. (1995) [Pubmed]
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