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

Sympathetic nervous system does not mediate reflex pupillary dilation during desflurane anesthesia.

BACKGROUND: Pupil size is determined by an interaction between the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions of the autonomic nervous system. Noxious stimulation dilates the pupil in both unanesthetized and anesthetized humans. In the absence of anesthesia, dilation is primarily mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. In contrast, pupillary dilation in cats given barbiturate or cloralose anesthesia is mediated solely by inhibition of the midbrain parasympathetic nucleus. The mechanism by which noxious stimuli dilate pupils during anesthesia in humans remains unknown. Accordingly, the authors tested the hypothesis that the pupillary dilation in response to noxious stimulation during desflurane anesthesia is primarily a parasympathetic reflex. METHODS: In six volunteers, the alpha-I adrenergic receptors of the iris musculature were blocked by unilateral administration of topical dapiprazole; six other volunteers were given unilateral topical tropicamide to block the muscarinic receptors in the iris. Desflurane anesthesia was subsequently induced in all volunteers. Sympathetic nervous system activation, with reflex dilation of the pupil, was produced by noxious electrical stimulation during 4% and 8% end-tidal desflurane, and by a rapid 4%-to-8% step-up in the desflurane concentration. Pupil diameter and the change in pupil size induced by a light stimulus (light reflex amplitude) were measured with infrared pupillometry. RESULTS: Dapiprazole drops produced a Horner's miosis, but pupils were equally small after induction of anesthesia. Pupillary dilation after noxious stimulation and desflurane step-up was identical in the unblocked and dapiprazole-blocked pupils. After tropicamide administration, the pupil was dilated and the light reflex was completely inhibited. Noxious stimulation nonetheless produced a slight additional dilation. CONCLUSIONS: During desflurane anesthesia, pupillary dilation in response to noxious stimulation or desflurane step-up is not mediated by the sympathetic nervous system (as it is in unanesthetized persons). Although inhibition of the pupillo-constrictor nucleus may be the cause of this dilation, the mechanism remains unknown.[1]


  1. Sympathetic nervous system does not mediate reflex pupillary dilation during desflurane anesthesia. Larson, M.D., Tayefeh, F., Sessler, D.I., Daniel, M., Noorani, M. Anesthesiology (1996) [Pubmed]
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