Manipulation of norepinephrine metabolism with yohimbine
in the treatment of autonomic failure

Biaggioni I, Robertson RM, Robertson D
Clinical Research Center,
Vanderbilt University,
Nashville, TN 37232.
J Clin Pharmacol 1994 May; 34(5):418-23


It has been postulated that alpha 2-adrenergic receptors play a modulatory role in the regulation of blood pressure. Activation of alpha 2-receptors located in the central nervous system results in inhibition of sympathetic tone and decrease of blood pressure. This indeed may be the mechanism of action of central sympatholytic antihypertensives such as alpha-methyldopa. Presynaptic alpha 2-receptors also are found in adrenergic nerve terminals. These receptors act as a negative feedback mechanism by inhibiting the release of norepinephrine. The relevance of alpha 2-adrenergic receptors for blood pressure regulation can be explored with yohimbine, a selective antagonist of these receptors. Yohimbine increases blood pressure in resting normal volunteers. This effect is associated with an increase in both sympathetic nerve activity, reflecting an increase in central sympathetic outflow, and in norepinephrine spillover, reflecting potentiation of the release of norepinephrine from adrenergic nerve terminals. These actions, therefore, underscore the importance of alpha 2-adrenergic receptors for blood pressure regulation even under resting conditions. Patients with autonomic failure, even those with severe sympathetic deprivation, are hypersensitive to the pressor effects of yohimbine. This increased responsiveness can be explained by sensitization of adrenergic receptors, analogous to denervation supersensitivity, and by the lack of autonomic reflexes that would normally buffer any increase in blood pressure. Preliminary studies suggest that the effectiveness of yohimbine in autonomic failure can be enhanced with monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Used in combination, yohimbine increases norepinephrine release, whereas monoamine oxidase inhibitors inhibit its degradation. Therefore, yohimbine is not only a useful tool in the study of blood pressure regulation, but may offer a therapeutic option in autonomic dysfunction.

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