Phenomena seen in axons exposed to subblocking doses serve as the basis for interpreting clinical and behavioral observations during onset and recovery of peripheral nerve block. To delineate the changes in excitability and in impulse conduction caused by subblocking concentrations of local anesthetics (LAs) in myelinated peripheral nerve fibers, LAs were applied to excised frog sciatic nerves while impulse conduction was monitored in single axons. For concentrations ranging from 0.01 to 1.2 times the LA concentration needed to block impulse conduction, three measures of susceptibility to LA were made to quantify the action of the drugs on “resting” fibers (firing rates ≤0.5 Hz): the increase in the threshold for electrical activation of impulses, the increase in conduction latency reflecting the slowing of impulse conduction in the region exposed to LA, and the “critical blocking concentration” of LA just sufficient to prevent impulse conduction in the recorded fiber. Wide interfiber variation in these variables was observed (e.g., for lidocaine, latency increases at block ranged from 66% to 257% of control, blocking concentrations ranged from 0.29 to 1.40 mM), which was not correlated with fiber diameter (as indicated by lesting conduction velocity). Mathematical modeling of impulse conduction in fibers exposed to LA demonstrated that the interfiber variation in susceptibility to LA block could result from interfiber differences in the density of sodium and potassium channels. The effects of LA were also studied in active fibers (firing rates >0.5 Hz). Local anesthetics reversibly inhibited two normally occurring afteroscillations in membrane threshold related to afterpotentials following an impulse. These were “superexcitability,” a transient lowering of threshold lasting as long as 1 s, and “depression,” a phase of raised threshold peaking within 2–4 s after an impulse and recovering slowly over several minutes. Impulse activity also transiently increased the apparent potency of LAs. Such “use-dependent” increases in threshold and decreases in conduction velocity showed kinetics that were agent specific, lasting 1 s after a burst of impulses for lidocaine and lasting >10 s for bupivacaine. At low concentrations, within the range of nontoxic plasma concentrations after systemic administration, the predominant actions of LAs on conducting fibers were transient decreases in excitability and conduction velocity in combination with a reduction of intrinsic oscillatory aftereffects of impulse discharge. These effects may degrade decoding of information in discharge patterns without actually blocking conduction of infrequent impulses, suggesting how functional blockade of coordinated movement and perception may occur ven without complete blockade of impulse conduction.
Address correspondence to Dr. Raymond, Anesthesia Research, Thorn 109, BWH, 75 Francis Street, Boston, MA 02115.
© 1992 International Anesthesia Research Society