Anticholinergic agents such as atropine and scopolamine have long been suggested to produce delirium-like states in humans and experimental animals. Evidence for an anticholinergic mechanism in the pathogenesis of human delirium has accumulated, leading to studies of the behavioral effects of the anticholinergic drug atropine in animals. The current study addresses the adequacy of animal models of delirium in terms of sensitivity, specificity and pharmacological relevance. A multiple fixed-ratio fixed-interval reinforcement schedule was used to test the effects of relatively low doses of atropine on behavior in rats. Additionally, total serum anticholinergic activity (SAA) was measured under dose and time course conditions identical to those used in the behavioral study. Atropine reduced high and low rates of responding in a dose-dependent manner, and SAA increased in a dose dependent manner. SAA at atropine doses of 0.1 mg/kg to 1.0 mg/kg was similar to that found in delirious humans. These behavioral and serum level data suggest that relatively low doses of atropine, substantially below those used in previous attempts to model delirium using rats, may be more pharmacologically relevant to delirium and may minimize non-specific peripheral effects of this drug.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This study was conducted at the animal research facility of the VA Medical Center, Minneapolis, MN, and supported by grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs (JM, JC) and the Alzheimer's Association (JC).
- atropine sulfate
- multiple schedule (FR FI)
- serum anticholinergic activity (SAA)