Doxapram is the only dedicated respiratory stimulant used to aid recovery of breathing after major surgery. Doxapram acts on peripheral chemoreceptors and although the central action of doxapram has been suggested, its detailed neuronal mechanism is unknown. We assessed doxapram-induced changes in spontaneous cervical nerve (C4) inspiratory activity and the firing of action potentials in pre-inspiratory and inspiratory neurones in the medulla. Experiments were performed in neonatal rat brainstem-spinal cord preparations, which can produce respiratory rhythm for several hours under in vitro conditions. Doxapram application (for 15 min) increased the frequency and amplitude of C4 activity dose-dependently. Doxapram induced changes in the electrophysiological properties of pre-inspiratory and inspiratory neurones. Our results suggest that respiratory activity enhancement was likely to be induced via effects on the potassium channels of pre-inspiratory and inspiratory neurones and indicate the central actions of doxapram.
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