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Thiopental impairs neutrophil oxidative response by inhibition of intracellular signalling

  • D. Fröhlich (a1), S. Wittmann (a1), G. Rothe (a2), G. Schmitz (a2) and K. Taeger (a1)...


Background and objective: Thiopental in clinically relevant concentrations inhibits the oxidative function of neutrophils, whereas only very high, non-therapeutic concentrations of methohexital induce a similar effect. The study characterized the molecular basis of this differential action of oxy- and thiobarbiturates on neutrophils.

Methods: Neutrophils were incubated in vitro with thiopental or methohexital using concentrations within the therapeutic range. Neutrophil responses were induced using different stimuli: N-formyl-L-methionyl-Lleucyl-L-phenylalanine (FMLP), C5a and 1,2-dioctanoyl-sn-glycerol (DiC8-DAG). FMLP and C5a bind to specific G-protein-coupled receptors that share the same second messenger cascade. In contrast, DiC8-DAG, an activator of protein kinase C, bypasses the signal transduction pathway downstream of the receptors. Hydrogen peroxide production by neutrophils was assessed using flow cytometry. To characterize the localization of the interaction site, FMLP receptor expression and cytosolic-free calcium were further analysed.

Results: FMLP and C5a-induced hydrogen peroxide production were both significantly impaired by thiopental, but not by methohexital. When postreceptor signalling was bypassed, by stimulation with DiC8-DAG, neither thiopental nor methohexital affected hydrogen peroxide production. Additionally, neither of the barbiturates impaired the cytosolic Ca2+ response.

Conclusions: We conclude that neither protein kinase C nor the hydrogen peroxide-generating enzymes are affected by thiopental or methohexital. The unimpaired Ca2+ response suggests that the function of the receptors and G-proteins were also unimpaired. Taken together, this indicates that the site of action of thiopental is in the cellular signalling upstream of protein kinase C.


Corresponding author

Correspondence to: Dieter Fröhlich, Department of Anaesthesiology, University of Regensburg, D-93042 Regensburg, Germany. E-mail:; Tel: +49 941 944 7801; Fax: +49 941 944 7802



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