pharmacology of Pilocarpine: a muscarinic receptor agonist

Pilocarpine drug molecule Skeletal formula
#Pilocarpine drug molecule Skeletal formula

Pilocarpine is a muscarinic receptor agonist, specifically targeting the M3 subtype of muscarinic receptors found on the iris sphincter muscle and the ciliary muscle. When activated, these receptors cause muscle contraction, leading to pupil constriction (miosis) and facilitating the outflow of aqueous humor from the eye, respectively. These actions result in a decrease in intraocular pressure, which is beneficial for managing glaucoma. However, pilocarpine can cause a paradoxical reaction known as an accommodative spasm, where the ciliary muscle’s contraction induces forward movement of the lens and iris, narrowing the anterior chamber angle and potentially raising intraocular pressure​1​. Pilocarpine is an alkaloid obtained from Pilocarpus microphyllus.

Pilocarpine is obtained from Maranham jaborandi Pilocarpus microphyllus medicinal plant
#Maranham jaborandi Pilocarpus microphyllus medicinal plant

Mechanism of Action

Pilocarpine is a cholinergic/muscarinic receptor agonist that specifically acts on the muscarinic receptor subtype M3 found on the iris sphincter muscle and ciliary muscle. Upon activation:

  1. The iris sphincter muscle contracts, resulting in pupil constriction (miosis).
  2. The ciliary muscle contracts, increasing tension on the scleral spur, thereby opening the trabecular meshwork and facilitating the outflow of aqueous humor from the eye to decrease intraocular pressure​1​.

Therapeutic Uses

  • Dry Mouth (Xerostomia): Pilocarpine tablets are used to treat dry mouth and throat, particularly in individuals who have undergone radiation treatment for head and neck cancer or those with Sjogren’s syndrome. The medication helps improve speaking, chewing, tasting, and swallowing functions by increasing saliva production​2​​,3​.
pilocarpine is used in Xerostomia (dry mouth): Old woman having dry mouth
#Old woman having dry mouth (Xerostomia)
  • Dry Eyes: Pilocarpine can also be used to treat dry eyes, especially in individuals with Sjogren’s syndrome​2​.
Pilocarpine use in dry eyes
#Woman drips eye drops (pilocarpine) into her eyes
  • Glaucoma Management: While not specifically mentioned in the provided links, pilocarpine is traditionally used in ophthalmic form for the management of glaucoma by reducing intraocular pressure​1​.
Pilocarpine is used in Glaucoma
#Vector illustration of glaucoma illness Cross section comparement with normal and damaged eye Scheme with cornea trabecular meshwork and aqueous humor fluid


  • Oral: Pilocarpine is available in tablet form for oral administration to treat xerostomia. The usual adult dosage for dry eyes or dry mouth is 5 milligrams (mg) three or four times a day​2​.


While the provided links did not have detailed information on the pharmacokinetics of pilocarpine, it’s known that the drug is well-absorbed after oral administration with a peak effect occurring within one hour.

Side Effects and Precautions

The common side effects may include sweating, nausea, diarrhea, and visual disturbances. Precaution should be taken in individuals with conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, gallbladder problems, heart or blood vessel disease, and other medical problems, as pilocarpine may worsen these conditions​2​.

Contraindications and Interactions

Certain medical conditions and medications may interact with pilocarpine, affecting its efficacy or causing adverse reactions. For instance, use with tegafur is usually not recommended, and the presence of other medical conditions like asthma, bronchitis, or glaucoma may affect the use of pilocarpine​2​.

Drug Classification

Pilocarpine falls under the classification of cholinergic agonists, which work by mimicking the action of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter, thereby increasing the amount of saliva in the mouth​3​.

Additional Information

In addition to the therapeutic uses, administration, and precautions mentioned above, there are a few other considerations to note regarding pilocarpine usage:

Monitoring and Follow-Up

Patients on pilocarpine therapy, especially for xerostomia, should have regular follow-ups to assess the drug’s efficacy and monitor for any adverse reactions. It is also advised to visit a dentist regularly, as pilocarpine alleviates dry mouth symptoms but does not cure the underlying condition. Having a dry mouth condition predisposes individuals to dental and other oral problems​2​.

Special Populations

  • Pediatric Patients: The provided links do not offer substantial information on pilocarpine’s use in pediatric populations.
  • Geriatric Patients: The drug has been tested and found not to cause different side effects or problems in older people compared to younger adults.
  • Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: There aren’t adequate studies to determine the risks of using pilocarpine during pregnancy or breastfeeding. The potential benefits and risks should be discussed with a healthcare provider before use​2​.


Pilocarpine is a crucial therapeutic agent for managing symptoms of dry mouth and eyes, especially in individuals with Sjogren’s syndrome or those who have undergone radiation therapy for head and neck cancers. The drug’s mechanism as a cholinergic agonist, specifically targeting muscarinic receptors, allows it to address particular ophthalmic and oral conditions effectively. Like any other medication, pilocarpine requires precise dosing and administration under a healthcare provider’s guidance to ensure safety and efficacy while minimizing adverse reactions.

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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