The mechanism of propranolol induced bronchoconstriction in asthma is uncertain, as airway beta adrenoceptors are not innervated by sympathetic nerves and circulating adrenaline concentrations are not raised. Propranolol 10 mg was infused over 27 minutes in 14 subjects with mild asthma. Peak expiratory flow (PEF) decreased by 80-235 l/min (17-51% of baseline) in nine subjects, who were called "responders," and by less than 50 l/min (12% of baseline) in five "non-responders". These two groups did not differ in baseline ventilatory function or in any clinical characteristic. In "responders" mean PEF had decreased significantly from 440 to 390 l/min after infusion of propranolol 2.1 mg, though the maximum fall in PEF occurred during or within five minutes of the end of the infusion. In nine of the subjects (six "responders" and three "non-responders") the possibility that propranolol induced bronchoconstriction is due to blockade of mast cell beta receptors leading to increased mediator release was examined by measurement of plasma histamine concentration as an index of mast cell degranulation. There was no consistent change in plasma histamine concentration in either group. No evidence of increased mast cell mediator release has been found in association with propranolol induced bronchoconstriction.
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