Background: The appetite suppressant aminorex fumarate is thought to have caused an epidemic of pulmonary hypertension in Europe in the 1960s. More recently, pulmonary hypertension has been described in some patients taking other amphetamine-like, anorexic agents: fenfluramine and its d- isomer, dexfenfluramine. No mechanism has been demonstrated that might account for the association between anorexic drugs and pulmonary hypertension. Methods and Results: Using the whole-cell, patch-clamp technique, we found that aminorex, fenfluramine, and dexfenfluramine inhibit potassium current in smooth muscle cells taken from the small resistance pulmonary arteries of the rat lung. Dexfenfluramine causes reversible membrane depolarization in these cells. These actions are similar to those of hypoxia, which initiates pulmonary vasoconstriction by inhibiting a potassium current in pulmonary vascular smooth muscle. In the isolated, perfused rat lung, aminorex, fenfluramine, and dexfenfluramine induce a dose-related increase in perfusion pressure. When the production of endogenous NO is inhibited by N-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester, the pressor response to dexfenfluramine is greatly enhanced. Conclusions: These observations indicate that anorexic agents, like hypoxia, can inhibit potassium current, cause membrane depolarization, and stimulate pulmonary vasoconstriction. They suggest one mechanism that could be responsible for initiating pulmonary hypertension in susceptible individuals. It is possible that susceptibility is the result of the reduced production of an endogenous vasodilator, such as NO but this remains speculative.
- hypertension, pulmonary
- muscle, smooth