Dexmedetomidine (DEX), a highly selective agonist of α2-adrenergic receptors, has been tailored for sedation without risk of respiratory depression. Our hypothesis is that DEX produces any direct perturbations on ionic currents (e.g., hyperpolarization-activated cation current, Ih). In this study, addition of DEX to pituitary GH3 cells caused a time-and concentration-dependent reduction in the amplitude of Ih with an IC50 value of 1.21 µM and a KD value of 1.97 µM. A hyperpolarizing shift in the activation curve of Ih by 10 mV was observed in the presence of DEX. The voltage-dependent hysteresis of Ih elicited by long-lasting triangular ramp pulse was also dose-dependently reduced during its presence. In continued presence of DEX (1 µM), further addition of OXAL (10 µM) or replacement with high K+ could reverse DEX-mediated inhibition of Ih, while subsequent addition of yohimbine (10 µM) did not attenuate the inhibitory effect on Ih amplitude. The addition of 3 µM DEX mildly suppressed the amplitude of erg-mediated K+ current. Under current-clamp potential recordings, the exposure to DEX could diminish the firing frequency of spontaneous action potentials. In pheochromocytoma PC12 cells, DEX was effective at suppressing Ih together with a slowing in activation time course of the current. Taken together, findings from this study strongly suggest that during cell exposure to DEX used at clinically relevant concentrations, the DEX-mediated block of Ih appears to be direct and would particularly be one of the ionic mechanisms underlying reduced membrane excitability in the in vivo endocrine or neuroendocrine cells.
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