In veterinary medicine, a number of alpha-2 receptor agonists are marketed as sedatives/hypnotics and analgesics, with their principal use being the chemical restraint of large and small animals. Guanabenz (Wytensin®) is an alpha-2 adrenergic receptor agonist marketed for use in humans as an anti-hypertensive agent. Recent reports indicate that guanabenz has been administered to horses in small doses (0.04 mg/kg) for its anti-hypertensive effects. While this offers both benefits of sedation of the horse as well as amelioration of pulmonary hypertension during running exercise and consequent Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH), guanabenz is currently proscribed in most racing jurisdictions and its administration to a racing horse can lead to penalties. The Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) lists guanabenz as an ARCI Class 3 agent; Class 3 agents include bronchodilators, anabolic steroids and other drugs with primary effects on the autonomic nervous system, procaine, antihistamines with sedative properties and diuretics and includes amitraz, clonidine, xylazine, detomidine, medetomidine, and romifidine. Guanabenz is unique among alpha-2 agonists in that it differentiates into E- and Z-forms (Fig. 1), with the Z-form lacking hypotensive properties, yet with both E- and Z-forms able to afford relief to cellular stresses related to inflammation or degenerative diseases. The objective of the study was a preliminary description of the pharmacological properties of guanabenz in comparison with clonidine and a number of other alpha-2 agonists. The goal was clinical evaluation of their sedative, analgesic and related activities with the goal of increasing our understanding of the clinical use of such medications and also as a possible prophylaxis for Exercise- Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage. The clinical study of guanabenz and clonidine was performed in a complete crossover strategy using quantitative markers of sedation, antinociception, heart rate, blood and urine glucose following administration of each compound in five horses. Amitraz, detomidine, medetomidine, romifidine, and xylazine were studied in one horse each. The sedation was quantified by measuring head droop and locomotor activity, while antinociception was measured by Hoof Withdrawal Reflex Latency. Heart rates, urine glucose, urine production and urine specific gravities were also determined by standard clinical chemistry techniques. Guanabenz serum levels and related urinary guanabenz glucuronide levels were determined by established Liquid Chromatography-tandem Mass Spectrometric (LC-MS) methods. In result the clinically effective doses (0.2 mg/kg) of guanabenz produced a rapid and intense sedative effect, with sagging of the lower lip, sunken eyelids, and marked head droop corresponding to plasma guanabenz concentrations that peaked at 120 ng/mL at 2.5 min post-injection (Fig. 2). The initial head height above the ground is considered 100 %, and head heights fell to values ranging 18–40 % with guanabenz, all of which are greater than a 50 % reduction in head height, considered a full clinically useful sedative effect. Despite the intensity of the sedation, all horses remained standing and were able to walk, and the sedation and head droop responses were rapidly reversed by intravenous administration of the alpha-2 receptor antagonist yohimbine, reversals occurring within 10 min of administration. As a pilot investigation this study was extended to six other members of the alpha-2 agonist group, clonidine administered to five horses, and amitraz, detomidine, medetomidine, romifidine, and xylazine to one horse each. Hoof Withdrawal Reflex Latency evaluation demonstrated the considerable analgesic properties of guanabenz, greater than the corresponding potencies among clonidine, detomidine, romifidine, medetomidine and xylazine. Heart rate monitoring showed guanabenz as possessing capacity for prolonged bradycardia, with effects of a single dose lasting for up to 3.5 hr, in contrast with clonidine (1 hr), amitraz (2 hr), detomidine (<1 hr), medetomidine (1 hr), romifidine (2 hr), and xylazine (<1 hr). Peak urine production following guanabenz administration occurred between 1.5 and 3.0 hr after administration (Fig. 6), as indicated by the steeper decline of the urine volume curve during that period. Urine specific gravity dropped to a low of about 1.006 at 2.0 hr after administration and remained at this level for ~1.0 hr. Urine pH remained at 8, and urine protein was negative throughout testing. The other alpha-2 agonists evaluated also caused an increased urine production with a concomitant decrease in specific gravity. The effect of guanabenz had the longest duration on increased urine volume, lasting about 3.0 hr. Xylazine had the shortest diuretic effect, persisting for only about 1.0 hr. Guanabenz along with romifidine and detomidine induced glucosuria whereas other alpha-2 agonists did not. Hyperglycemia and the corresponding glucosuria resulted in a significant diuresis, as shown by the cumulative urine volume. Guanabenz along with amitraz, detomidine and xylazine also produced measurable sedation presenting as reduced locomotor activity (Table 1). While all alpha-2 agonists showed qualitatively similar pharmacological responses, only guanabenz produced an intense and relatively prolonged antinociceptive response. The study is limited by the number of horses examined (five each for guanabenz and clonidine, five for repeat studies that included yohimbine antagonism, and one each for the other agonists). Study design was focused on clinical evaluation of agonist similarities and differences and thus did not specifically generate data for detailed statistical evaluation. In conclusion these studies show that a 100 mg IV dose of guanabenz rapidly induces clinically useful sedation, analgesia and antinociception effects that are more intense and considerably longer-lasting than those produced by other alpha-2 receptor agonists evaluated. Guanabenz also remains detectable in serum up to 8-hours following administration at doses as low as 0.04 mg/kg. In the work reported here, guanabenz administered at 0.2 mg/kg IV showed peak concentrations in serum of 120 ng/ mL at 2.5 min and was detectable for up to 4 hr with its glucuronide metabolite peaking at 120 min post-administration. Although we did not investigate the combination of guanabenz with opioid drugs such as butorphanol for pain management, guanabenz may well be a drug of choice among the other alpha-2 agonists evaluated in this study for administration with opioids for pain management based on maintaining maximum levels of analgesia for longer periods of time. These experiments suggest considerable clinical potential for guanabenz as a sedative and a relatively long-lasting analgesic in equine medicine. Based on these pharmacological properties, guanabenz and related alpha-2 agonists also have considerable potential for clinical use in equine medicine.
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Lehner, Andreas F.; Dirikolu, L.; and Tobin, Thomas, "Guanabenz in the horse – A preliminary report on clinical effects and comparison to clonidine and other alpha-2 adrenergic agonists" (2022). Veterinary Science Faculty Publications. 65.