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A comparison of medetomidine and its active enantiomer dexmedetomidine when administered with ketamine in mice

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      Medetomidine-ketamine (MK) and dexmedetomidine-ketamine (DK) are widely used to provide general anaesthesia in laboratory animals, but have not been compared directly in many of these species, including rodents. This study aimed to compare the onset and depth of anaesthesia, and changes in vital signs, after intraperitoneal (IP) or subcutaneous (SC) administration of ketamine (75 mg kg -1) combined with medetomidine (1 mg kg -1) or dexmedetomidine (0.5 mg kg -1) using a randomised semi-crossover design with ≥ 48 hours between treatments in 10 male and 10 female mice. Each mouse was anaesthetised twice using the same administration route (IP or SC): once with each drug-ketamine combination. Anaesthetised mice were monitored on a heating pad without supplemental oxygen for 89 minutes; atipamezole was administered for reversal. The times that the righting reflex was lost post-injection and returned post-reversal were analysed using general linear models. Tail-pinch and pedal reflexes were examined using binomial generalized linear models. Pulse rate (PR), respiratory rate ( fr), and arterial haemoglobin saturation (S pO 2) were compared using generalized additive mixed models.


      There were no significant differences among treatments for the times taken for loss and return of the righting reflex, or response of the tail-pinch reflex. The pedal withdrawal reflex was abolished more frequently with MK than DK over time ( P = 0.021). The response of PR and S pO 2 were similar among treatments, but fr was significantly higher with MK than DK ( P ≤ 0.0005). Markedly low S pO 2 concentrations occurred within 5 minutes post-injection (83.8 ± 6.7%) in all treatment groups and were most severe after 89 minutes lapsed (66.7 ± 7.5%). No statistical differences were detected in regards to administration route ( P ≤ 0.94).


      This study failed to demonstrate clinical advantages of the enantiomer dexmedetomidine over medetomidine when combined with ketamine to produce general anaesthesia in mice. At the doses administered, deep surgical anaesthesia was not consistently produced with either combination; therefore, anaesthetic depth must be assessed before performing surgical procedures. Supplemental oxygen should always be provided during anaesthesia to prevent hypoxaemia.

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      Most cited references 35

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      Alpha-2 adrenoceptor agonists: defining the role in clinical anesthesia.

       M Maze,  W Tranquilli (1991)
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        A review of the physiological effects of alpha2-agonists related to the clinical use of medetomidine in small animal practice.

         M Sinclair (2003)
        Medetomidine is a relatively new sedative analgesic drug that is approved for use in dogs in Canada. It is the most potent alpha2-adrenoreceptor available for clinical use in veterinary medicine and stimulates receptors centrally to produce dose-dependent sedation and analgesia. Significant dose sparing properties occur when medetomidine is combined with other anesthetic agents correlating with the high affinity of this drug to the alpha2-adrenoreceptor. Hypoventilation occurs with medetomidine sedation in dogs; however, respiratory depression becomes most significant when given in combination with other sedative or injectable agents. The typical negative cardiovascular effects produced with other alpha2-agonists (bradycardia, bradyarrhythmias, a reduction in cardiac output, hypertension +/- hypotension) are also produced with medetomidine, warranting precautions when it is used and necessitating appropriate patient selection (young, middle-aged healthy animals). While hypotension may occur, sedative doses of medetomidine typically raise the blood pressure, due to the effect on peripheral alpha2-adrenoreceptors. Anticholinergic premedication has been recommended with alpha2-agonists to prevent bradyarrhythmias and, potentially, the reduction in cardiac output produced by these agents; however, current research does not demonstrate a clear improvement in cardiovascular function. Negatively, the anticholinergic induced increase in heart rate potentiates the alpha2-agonist mediated hypertension and may increase myocardial oxygen tension, demand, and workload. Overall, reversal with the specific antagonist atipamezole is recommended when significant cardiorespiratory complications occur. Other physiological effects of medetomidine sedation include; vomiting, increased urine volumes, changes to endocrine function and uterine activity, decreased intestinal motility, decreased intraocular pressure and potentially hypothermia, muscle twitching, and cyanosis. Decreased doses of medetomidine, compared with the recommended label dose, should be considered in combination with other sedatives to enhance sedation and analgesia and lower the duration and potential severity of the negative cardiovascular side effects. The literature was searched in Pubmed, Medline, Agricola, CAB direct, and Biological Sciences.
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          Optimization of intraperitoneal injection anesthesia in mice: drugs, dosages, adverse effects, and anesthesia depth.

          The goals of the study were to find a safe intraperitoneal injection anesthesia protocol for medium-duration surgery in mice (e.g., embryo transfer/vasectomy) coupled with a simple method to assess anesthesia depth under routine laboratory conditions. Eight anesthetic protocols consisting of combinations of dissociative anesthetics (ketamine, tiletamine), alpha2-agonists (xylazine, medetomidine), and/or sedatives (acepromazine, azaperone, zolazepam) were compared for their safety and efficacy (death rate, surgical tolerance), using observations and reflex tests. The four best protocols were further evaluated during vasectomy: physiologic measurements (respiratory rate, electrocardiogram, arterial blood pressure, body temperature, blood gas tensions, and acid-base balance) were used to characterize the quality of anesthesia. The reactions of physiologic parameters to surgical stimuli were used to determine anesthesia depth, and were correlated with reflex test results. The protocol with the highest safety margin and the longest time of surgical tolerance (54 min) was ketamine/ xylazine/acepromazine. Three further anesthetic combinations were associated with surgical tolerance: ketamine/ xylazine, ketamine/xylazinelazaperone, and tiletamine/xylazine/zolazepam (Telazol/xylazine). The protocols consisting of ketamine/medetomidine and ketamine/azaperone were not associated with clearly detectable surgical tolerance. The most reliable parameter of surgical tolerance under routine laboratory conditions was the pedal withdrawal reflex. The best intraperitoneal injection anesthesia regimen consisted of ketamine/xylazine/acepromazine. The dose must be adapted to the particulars of each experimental design (mouse strain, sex, age, mutation). This is best done by measuring surgical tolerance, using the pedal withdrawal reflex.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]Comparative Biology Centre, Newcastle University, Framlington Place, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH, United Kingdom
            [2 ]School of Veterinary Medicine, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Bearsden Road, Glasgow, G61 1QH, United Kingdom
            [3 ]Boyd Orr Centre for population and ecosystem health, Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, G12 8QQ, United Kingdom
            BMC Vet Res
            BMC Vet. Res
            BMC Veterinary Research
            BioMed Central
            13 March 2013
            : 9
            : 48
            23497612 3605306 1746-6148-9-48 10.1186/1746-6148-9-48
            Copyright ©2013 Burnside et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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