The effects of the local anaesthetics procaine, tetracaine and lidocaine and of the antidepressant imipramine on human erythrocyte acetylcholinesterase were investigated. All four amphiphilic drugs inhibited enzymic activity, the IC50 (the concentration causing 50% inhibition) being about 0.40 mM for procaine, 0.05 mM for tetracaine, 0.70 mM for imipramine and 7.0 mM for lidocaine. Procaine and tetracaine inhibited acetylcholinesterase activity competitively at concentrations at which they did not perturb the physical state of the membrane lipid environment, as assessed by steady-state fluorescence polarization, whereas lidocaine and imipramine displayed mixed inhibition kinetics at concentrations at which they induced an enhancement of membrane fluidity. The question was addressed as to whether membrane integrity is a prerequisite for imipramine and lidocaine action. Membrane solubilization by 1% Triton X-100 and a decrease, by dilution, in the detergent concentration to 0.05% [which is above the Triton X-100 critical micelle concentration (c.m.c.)] did not substantially affect the inhibitory potency of the two amphiphilic drugs at their IC50; in the presence of increasing detergent concentrations the inhibitory potency of imipramine was gradually decreased, but not abolished, whereas the inhibitory effect of lidocaine was only slightly diminished, even at 1% Triton X-100. It is suggested that neither competitive nor mixed inhibition kinetics arise from conformational changes of the protein driven by a modification of the physical state of the lipid environment, but from a direct interaction of the amphiphilic drugs with acetylcholinesterase. In particular, the partial loss of the inhibitory potency of imipramine and lidocaine that is observed upon increasing Triton X-100 concentration well above its c.m.c. could be explained in terms of amphiphile partition in detergent micelles and, in turn, of a decreased effective concentration of the two inhibitors in the aqueous phase.

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