Background and objective:: Cisatracurium is an intermediate acting, non‐depolarizing neuromuscular blocking agent. Previous reports have indicated a growth‐inhibitory effect of the isoforms cisatracurium and atracurium on two human cell lines in vitro. These effects were ascribed to oxidative stress elicited by acrylate esters formed during cisatracurium breakdown. Oxidative stress is a potent precipitator of apoptosis. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to investigate whether the growth‐inhibitory effects of cisatracurium could be explained by initiation of apoptosis.
Methods:: Human umbilical vein endothelial cells were incubated with cisatracurium at concentrations of 0.96, 3.2, 9.6, 32 and 96 μmol for 24 h. DNA fragmentation was measured using the Cell Death Detection ELISA Plus assay (Roche Diagnostics, Mannheim, Germany).
Results:: There was a dose dependency of cisatracurium with respect to the rate of apoptosis in human umbilical vein endothelial cells. Programmed cell death could be demonstrated at concentrations encountered in human plasma after single‐bolus injections of cisatracurium. Apoptosis was attenuated by the concomitant administration of glutathione.
Conclusions:: These findings strongly support the hypothesis that acrylate esters, breakdown products of cisatracurium, induce oxidative stress and, subsequently, apoptosis.