Organophosphorus (OP) compounds inhibit central and peripheral acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity, overstimulating cholinergic receptors and causing autonomic dysfunction (e.g., bronchoconstriction, excess secretions), respiratory impairment, seizure and death at high doses. Current treatment for OP poisoning in the United States includes reactivation of OP-inhibited AChE by the pyridinium oxime 2-pyridine aldoxime (2-PAM). However, 2-PAM has a narrow therapeutic index and its efficacy is confined to a limited number of OP agents. The bis-pyridinium oxime MMB4, which is a more potent reactivator than 2-PAM with improved pharmaceutical properties and therapeutic range, is under consideration as a potential replacement for 2-PAM. Similar to other pyridinium oximes, high doses of MMB4 lead to off-target effects culminating in respiratory depression and death. To understand the toxic mechanisms contributing to respiratory depression, we evaluated the effects of MMB4 (0.25-16 mM) on functional and neurophysiological parameters of diaphragm and limb muscle function in rabbits and rats. In both species, MMB4 depressed nerve-elicited muscle contraction by blocking muscle endplate nicotinic receptor currents while simultaneously prolonging endplate potentials by inhibiting AChE. MMB4 increased quantal content, endplate potential rundown and tetanic fade during high frequency stimulation in rat but not rabbit muscles, suggesting species-specific effects on feedback mechanisms involved in sustaining neurotransmission. These data reveal multifactorial effects of MMB4 on cholinergic neurotransmission, with the primary toxic modality being reduced muscle nicotinic endplate currents. Evidence of species-specific effects on neuromuscular function illustrates the importance of comparative toxicology when studying pyridinium oximes and, by inference, other quaternary ammonium compounds.

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