Catecholamines trigger proximal tubular fluid retention and reduce renal excretion of solute-free water. In advanced cirrhosis, non-osmotic hypersecretion of vasopressin (antidiuretic hormone or ADH) is considered the cause of dilutional hyponatraemia, but ADH V2 receptor antagonists are not beneficial in long-term treatment of ascites. To test the hypothesis that water retention in experimental ascitic cirrhosis might depend primarily on adrenergic hyper-function, hormonal status, renal function and tubular free-water reabsorption (TFWR) were assessed in six groups of rats with ascitic cirrhosis: rats with cirrhosis due to 13-week CCl4 (carbon tetrachloride) administration (group G1); cirrhotic rats receiving daily diuretics (0.5 mg/kg furosemide plus 2 mg/kg K+-canrenoate) from the 11th to the 13th week of CCl4 (G2), diuretics associated with guanfacine oral prodrug (α2A-adrenergic receptor agonist and sympatholytic agent) at 2 (G3), 7 (G4) or 10 (G5) mg/kg, or with SSP-004240F1 (V2 receptor antagonist) at 1 mg/kg (G6). Natriuresis was lower in G1 than in G2, G4 and G6 (all P<0.05). Guanfacine, added to diuretics (i.e. G3 compared with G2), reduced serum noradrenaline from 423±22 to 211±41 ng/l (P<0.05), plasma renin activity (PRA) from 35±8 to 9±2 ng/ml/h (P<0.05) and TFWR from 45±8 to 20±6 μl/min (P<0.01). TFWR correlated with plasma aldosterone (r=0.51, P<0.01) and urinary potassium excretion (r=0.90, P<0.001). In ascitic cirrhosis, reduced volaemia, use of diuretics (especially furosemide) and adrenergic hyper-function cause tubular retention of water. Suitable doses of sympatholytic agents are effective aquaretics.

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