Effects of acute and chronic systemic methamphetamine on respiratory, cardiovascular and metabolic function, and cardiorespiratory reflexes

Sarah F. Hassan, Travis A. Wearne, Jennifer L. Cornish, Ann K. Goodchild*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    22 Citations (Scopus)


    Key points: Methamphetamine (METH) abuse is escalating worldwide, with the most common cause of death resulting from cardiovascular failure and hyperthermia; however, the underlying physiological mechanisms are poorly understood. Systemic administration of METH in anaesthetised rats reduced the effectiveness of some protective cardiorespiratory reflexes, increased central respiratory activity independently of metabolic function, and increased heart rate, metabolism and respiration in a pattern indicating that non-shivering thermogenesis contributes to the well-described hyperthermia. In animals that showed METH-induced behavioural sensitisation following chronic METH treatment, no changes were evident in baseline cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic measures and the METH-evoked effects in these parameters were similar to those seen in saline-treated or drug naïve animals. Physiological effects evoked by METH were retained but were neither facilitated nor depressed following chronic treatment with METH. These data highlight and identify potential mechanisms for targeted intervention in patients vulnerable to METH overdose. Methamphetamine (METH) is known to promote cardiovascular failure or life-threatening hyperthermia; however, there is still limited understanding of the mechanisms responsible for evoking the physiological changes. In this study, we systematically determined the effects on both autonomic and respiratory outflows, as well as reflex function, following acute and repeated administration of METH, which enhances behavioural responses. Arterial pressure, heart rate, phrenic nerve discharge amplitude and frequency, lumbar and splanchnic sympathetic nerve discharge, interscapular brown adipose tissue and core temperatures, and expired CO2 were measured in urethane-anaesthetised male Sprague-Dawley rats. Novel findings include potent increases in central inspiratory drive and frequency that are not dependent on METH-evoked increases in expired CO2 levels. Increases in non-shivering thermogenesis correlate with well-described increases in body temperature and heart rate. Unexpectedly, METH evoked minor effects on both sympathetic outflows and mean arterial pressure. METH modified cardiorespiratory reflex function in response to hypoxia, hypercapnia and baroreceptor unloading. Chronically METH-treated rats failed to exhibit changes in baseline sympathetic, cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic parameters. The tonic and reflex cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic responses to METH challenge were similar to those seen in saline-treated and drug naive animals. Overall, these findings describe independent and compound associations between physiological systems evoked by METH and serve to highlight that a single dose of METH can significantly impact basic homeostatic systems and protective functions. These effects of METH persist even following chronic METH treatment.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)763-780
    Number of pages18
    JournalJournal of Physiology
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


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