Cocaine inhibits baroreflex control of blood pressure by actions at arterial baroreceptors

M. C. Andresen, M. Yang, S. H. Nelson, O. S. Steinsland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Blood pressure and heart rate often increase during cocaine intoxication, but the mechanisms of these cardiovascular responses are poorly understood. The most often suggested theories are central nervous system mechanisms involving the blockade of neuronal transmitter uptake. Cocaine also has potent local anesthetic properties, and in this study we tested the possible role of peripheral actions of cocaine at baroreceptor afferents. Single fiber baroreceptors were recorded using an in vitro preparation of the rat aortic arch. Diameter, pressure, and baroreceptor discharge were recorded. Cocaine perfused through the lumen of the aortic arch at a suprathreshold pressure reduced baroreceptor discharge within 90 s of entering the lumen of the aorta. Slow ramps of pressure elicited complete pressure- and diameter-discharge curves every 5 min. Beginning at about 1 μM, cocaine inhibited baroreceptor function; threshold increased, the maximum discharge decreased, and at 100 μM cocaine, all discharge ceased. The vasodilator nitroprusside or the α1-adrenoreceptor antagonist prazosin did not affect baroreceptor responses to cocaine. In in vivo tests in rabbits, cocaine that perfused through a vascularly isolated carotid sinus reduced the slope of the baroreflex relationship between carotid sinus pressure and systemic mean arterial pressure. Significant depression of baroreceptor function was found at concentrations similar to the plasma cocaine levels measured in clinical studies. The local anesthetic properties of cocaine may be involved in baroreceptor effects. Our studies suggest a possible contributing role of a new site of action of cocaine outside the central nervous system. Compromise of baroreceptor reflexes could facilitate the development of serious cardiovascular complications associated with cocaine abuse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H1244-H1249
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number4 27-4
StatePublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes


  • autonomic nervous system
  • local anesthetics
  • pressoreceptors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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