It has been proposed that adenosine mediates ischaemic pain in humans. Patients with cardiac Syndrome X are hypersensitive to potential pain stimuli, including adenosine. On the other hand, recent findings suggest that low-dose adenosine infusion may have analgesic effects. Our aim was to test two hypotheses: (1) that the analgesic effect of adenosine is peripheral in origin, and (2) that part of the hypersensitivity to pain of patients with cardiac Syndrome X results from a disturbed mechanism of adenosine analgesia. A total of 12 female Syndrome X patients and eight healthy age-matched female controls were studied in a randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study. Adenosine (70 μg/min) or placebo was infused into the forearm via an intra-arterial catheter. After 15 min of infusion, a tourniquet on the upper arm was inflated to 225 mmHg to ensure arterial occlusion. The patient then carried out dynamic handgrip work at 60 Hz. Pain or discomfort in the forearm was estimated continuously according to the Borg CR-10 scale. After the first test, theophylline was infused for 10 min intravenously at a dose of 5 mg/kg body weight. The ischaemic forearm test was then repeated. On a second occasion, the procedure was repeated with the opposite treatment (adenosine/placebo). Only six of 12 Syndrome X patients completed the protocol because of pain during the catheterization procedure or an inability to establish an intra-arterial line. The time to onset of pain in the working, ischaemic forearm was greater for subjects treated with adenosine than for those treated with placebo, both in those Syndrome X patients who tolerated catheterization (49±27 s compared with 32±18 s; P< 0.03) and in healthy controls (40±19 s compared with 16±8 s; P< 0.02). The time to maximum pain, limiting ischaemic work, was also greater with adenosine pretreatment both in Syndrome X patients (137±28 s compared with 106±28 s; P< 0.03) and in healthy controls (109±31 compared with 82±18 s; P< 0.01). After infusion of theophylline there was no difference between adenosine and placebo in either group. Intra-arterially infused adenosine had similar peripheral analgesic effects on experimentally induced muscular ischaemia in those female Syndrome X patients who tolerated intra-arterial catheterization and in healthy controls. Thus adenosine analgesia is counteracted by theophylline, suggesting that the effect is mediated by membrane-bound peripheral adenosine receptors.

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