Pharmacolgy of Atropine: antimuscarinic agent

Origin and Chemical Structure

Atropine deadly nightshade Atropa belladonna alkaloid molecule Medicinal drug and poison also found in Jimson weed Datura stramonium and mandrake Mandragora officinarum Skeletal formula
#Atropine deadly nightshade Atropa belladonna alkaloid molecule Medicinal drug and poison also found in Jimson weed Datura stramonium and mandrake Mandragora officinarum Skeletal formula

Atropine is a naturally occurring amine derived from the deadly nightshade plant, Atropa belladonna, as well as other plants in the nightshade family (Solanaceae). It is an alkaloid, specifically a racemic mixture of d- and l-hyoscyamine, where only l-hyoscyamine is pharmacologically active. The compound is commonly available as a sulfate salt​1,​​2​.

Atropine: Blossoms of deadly nightshade Atropa belladonna
#Blossoms of deadly nightshade Atropa belladonna

Mechanism of Action

Atropine operates as a competitive, reversible antagonist of muscarinic receptors, thus classifying it as an anticholinergic drug. By blocking the action of acetylcholine on muscarinic receptors, it inhibits the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for “rest and digest” activities. This mechanism is employed to counteract various conditions including muscarinic poisoning and bradycardia (slow heart rate)​1​​,3​.

Metabolism and Excretion

Atropine is mainly metabolized in the liver through enzymatic hydrolysis, yielding major metabolites such as noratropine, atropin-n-oxide, tropine, and tropic acid. The metabolism of atropine can be inhibited by substances like organophosphate pesticides. A significant portion of atropine, approximately 13 to 50%, is excreted unchanged in the urine​4​.


The pharmacokinetics of atropine are noted to be nonlinear post intravenous administration within a dose range of 0.5 to 4 mg. Atropine has a plasma protein binding capacity of about 44%, which is saturable in the 2-20 µg/mL concentration range. Notably, atropine can cross the placental barrier and enter the fetal circulation, although it is not found in the amniotic fluid​​.

Clinical Applications

Atropine finds a range of clinical uses owing to its anticholinergic properties. Some of the key applications include:

  • Treating muscarinic poisoning caused by substances like organophosphates.
  • Managing symptomatic bradycardia.
  • Decreasing saliva and bronchial secretions, particularly prior to surgical procedures.
  • Used alone or in combination with other drugs to alleviate various conditions​1,​​2​.

Toxicity and Contraindications

Toxic side effects of atropine include severe conditions like ventricular fibrillation, hypotension, convulsions, hallucinations, and excitation, especially in elderly individuals. It’s generally contraindicated in individuals with glaucoma, pyloric stenosis, or prostatic hypertrophy, except in doses often used for pre-anesthetic treatment​2​.

The pharmacology of atropine is vast and the drug has a wide array of clinical applications owing to its anticholinergic mechanism of action. The understanding of its pharmacological profile is pivotal for its safe and effective clinical use.


Atropine can be administered through various routes including intravenous, subcutaneous, intramuscular, intraosseous, endotracheal, and ophthalmic methods. However, oral atropine is usually available only in combination products. The mode of administration is chosen based on the clinical scenario and the desired speed of action. For instance, intravenous administration is preferred in emergencies due to its rapid onset of action​​.

Dosage Forms

Atropine is available in several dosage forms, including injectable solutions and ophthalmic preparations. Some common brand names under which atropine is sold include Atropen, Isopto Atropine, and Minims Atropine Sulphate, among others​​.


Atropine may interact with other drugs, especially those with anticholinergic properties, potentially exacerbating anticholinergic effects. It’s crucial to have a thorough understanding of potential drug interactions to avoid adverse reactions and ensure the safe use of atropine.


Patients on atropine therapy should be monitored for efficacy and adverse reactions, particularly in scenarios of muscarinic poisoning or symptomatic bradycardia treatment. Monitoring includes assessing heart rate, blood pressure, and other relevant physiological parameters to ensure the drug is achieving the desired effect without causing unacceptable side effects​3​.

Special Populations

In specific populations, such as pregnant or breastfeeding women, the risks and benefits of atropine therapy should be carefully weighed. Moreover, due to the potential for serious adverse reactions in elderly patients, cautious dosing and close monitoring are recommended, especially in this demographic.


Atropine is a potent anticholinergic agent with a wide range of clinical applications from treating bradycardia and muscarinic poisoning to reducing secretions during surgery. Its pharmacological profile, including its mechanism of action, metabolism, and interactions, underpins its clinical utility. However, like all medications, atropine requires careful dosing, administration, and monitoring to ensure its benefits are maximized while minimizing potential risks.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a healthcare provider with any questions regarding a medical condition.

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