BACKGROUND--Sodium metabisulphite (MBS) is known to induce bronchoconstriction in asthmatic patients. The effects of MBS on guinea pig airway smooth muscle and on neurally mediated contraction in vitro have been examined. METHODS--Tracheal and bronchial airway segments were placed in oxygenated buffer solution and electrical field stimulation was performed in the presence of indomethacin (10(-5) M) and propranolol (10(-6) M) for the measurement of isometric tension. Atropine (10(-6) M) was added to bronchial tissues. RESULTS--Concentrations of MBS up to 10(-3) M had no direct effect on airway smooth muscle contraction and did not alter either tracheal smooth muscle contraction induced by electrical field stimulation at all frequencies or acetylcholine-induced tracheal smooth muscle contraction. There was a similar response in the absence of epithelium, except for potentiation of the response induced by electrical field stimulation at 0.5 Hz (24 (10)% increase). However, MBS (10(-5), 10(-6) and 10(-7) M) augmented neurally-mediated non-adrenergic non-cholinergic contractile responses in the bronchi (13.3 (3.2)%, 23.8 (9.6)%, and 6.4 (1.6)%, respectively). MBS had no effect on the contractile response induced by substance P, but at higher concentrations (10(-3) M and 10(-4) M) it caused a time-dependent attenuation of responses induced by either electrical field stimulation or exogenously applied acetylcholine or substance P. CONCLUSIONS--MBS had no direct contractile responses but enhanced bronchoconstriction induced by activation of non-cholinergic neural pathways in the bronchus, probably through increased release of neuropeptides. At high concentrations MBS inhibited contractile responses initiated by receptor or neural stimulation.
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