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Most of the actions of catecholamines and sympathomimetic agents can be classified into seven broad types:

  1. A peripheral excitatory action on certain types of smooth muscle, such as those in blood vessels supplying skin, kidney, and mucous membranes; and on gland cells, such as those in salivary and sweat glands.

  2. A peripheral inhibitory action on certain other types of smooth muscle, such as those in the wall of the gut, in the bronchial tree, and in blood vessels supplying skeletal muscle.

  3. A cardiac excitatory action that increases heart rate and force of contraction.

  4. Metabolic actions, such as an increase in the rate of glycogenolysis in liver and muscle and liberation of free fatty acids from adipose tissue.

  5. Endocrine actions, such as modulation (increasing or decreasing) of the secretion of insulin, renin, and pituitary hormones.

  6. Actions in the CNS, such as respiratory stimulation, an increase in wakefulness and psychomotor activity, and a reduction in appetite.

  7. Prejunctional actions that either inhibit or facilitate the release of neurotransmitters, the inhibitory action being physiologically more important.

Many of these actions and the receptors that mediate them are summarized in Tables 8–1 and 8–6. Not all sympathomimetic drugs show each of the types of action to the same degree; however, many of the differences in their effects are only quantitative. The pharmacological properties of these drugs as a class are described in detail for the prototypical agent, epinephrine (EPI). Appreciation of the pharmacological properties of the drugs described in this chapter depends on an understanding of the classification, distribution, and mechanism of action of α and β adrenergic receptors (Chapter 8).



AAAD: l-aromatic amino acid decarboxylase

ACEI: angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor

ADHD: attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

AV: atrioventricular

BPH: benign prostatic hyperplasia

CNS: central nervous system

COMT: catechol-O-methyltransferase

COPD: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

DA: dopamine

ECG: electrocardiogram

EPI: epinephrine

FDA: Food and Drug Administration

GI: gastrointestinal

HDL: high-density lipoprotein

HMG CoA: 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl coenzyme A

5HT: 5-hydroxytryptamine (serotonin)

INE: isoproterenol (Isopropyl NE)

LABA: long-acting β2 adrenergic agonist

LDL: low-density lipoprotein

MAO: monoamine oxidase

NE: norepinephrine

NET: NE transporter

NPY: neuropeptide Y

PBZ: phenoxybenzamine

PDE: phosphodiesterase

PVR: peripheral vascular resistance

ROS: reactive oxygen species

SA: sinoatrial

VLABA: very long-acting β2 adrenergic agonist


Catecholamines and sympathomimetic drugs are classified as direct-acting, indirect-acting, or mixed-acting sympathomimetics (Figure 12–1). Direct-acting sympathomimetic drugs act directly on one or more of the adrenergic receptors. These agents may exhibit considerable selectivity for a specific receptor subtype (e.g., phenylephrine for α1, terbutaline for β2) or may have no or minimal selectivity and act on several receptor types (e.g., EPI for α1, α2, β1, β2, and β3 receptors; NE ...

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