"Functional antagonism" is often used to describe the general relaxant effect of beta 2 agonists and xanthines and their ability to protect the airways against bronchoconstrictor stimuli. This study in guinea pig isolated trachea addresses the question of whether the capacity of these drugs to protect against constrictor stimuli is related to smooth muscle relaxation. Three antimuscarinic drugs were also examined to determine whether antagonism of mediators other than muscarinic agonists might contribute to bronchodilatation by these antimuscarinic drugs. Terbutaline (1.1 x 10(-7), 2.2 x 10(-7) M), theophylline (2.2 x 10(-4), 4.4 x 10(-4) M), and enprofylline (5.2 x 10(-5), 1.0 x 10(-4) M) relaxed the tracheal tension that remained after indomethacin treatment. They did not, however, alter the carbachol concentration-response curve significantly. In addition, neither theophylline (2.2 x 10(-4) M) nor terbutaline (1.1 x 10(-7) M) altered histamine induced contraction. Atropine sulphate, glycopyrrolate, and ipratropium bromide had EC50 values of 10(-9) - 10(-8) M for relaxation of carbachol induced contractions, whereas concentrations of 10(-6) - 10(-3) M or greater were required to relax contractions induced by allergen and nine other non-muscarinic mediators. It is suggested that bronchodilatation by antimuscarinic drugs in vivo is due to inhibition of acetylcholine induced bronchoconstriction alone and that beta 2 agonists and xanthines have poor ability to protect airway smooth muscle against constrictor stimuli. Hence mechanisms other than bronchodilatation and "functional antagonism" should be considered to explain the protection against constrictor stimuli in asthma seen with beta 2 agonists and xanthines.
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