Pharmacology of Pilocarpine


Pilocarpine is a notable muscarinic cholinergic agonist extracted from the leaves of the South American shrub Pilocarpus jaborandi. It has garnered attention primarily for its therapeutic applications in managing glaucoma and xerostomia, the latter often being a complication following radiation therapy for cancers in the head and neck region.

Chemical Structure and Properties


Pilocarpine is classified as an alkaloid with the molecular formula C11H16N2O2. As a tertiary amine, it possesses the unique ability to directly interact with and stimulate muscarinic receptors within the autonomic nervous system, influencing various physiological responses.

Mechanism of Action

Pilocarpine’s pharmacological activity is attributed to its direct-acting cholinergic agonistic properties. By stimulating muscarinic receptors, it induces:

  • In the Eye: Contraction of the ciliary muscle, leading to improved aqueous humor outflow and reduced intraocular pressure, crucial in glaucoma management.
  • In Salivary Glands: Enhanced saliva production, addressing the dry mouth condition seen in xerostomia.


  • Absorption: Pilocarpine shows effective absorption when administered either topically to the eye or orally.
  • Distribution: It is known for its wide distribution across body tissues, including the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier due to its lipophilic nature.
  • Metabolism: The liver primarily metabolizes Pilocarpine.
  • Excretion: It is mainly excreted through the urine.

Clinical Uses

  • Glaucoma: Pilocarpine is a drug of choice for both acute angle-closure glaucoma and chronic open-angle glaucoma, effectively lowering intraocular pressure.
  • Xerostomia: It is beneficial for patients suffering from dry mouth associated with radiation therapy or Sjögren’s syndrome, enhancing saliva production.

Adverse Effects

  • Ocular Effects: Usage can lead to blurred vision, myopia, and eye pain.
  • Systemic Effects: May cause sweating, nausea, increased salivation, bronchial secretions, and gastrointestinal cramping due to its widespread muscarinic activation.
  • Cardiac Effects: Bradycardia is a noted potential side effect.

Contraindications and Precautions

  • Respiratory Conditions: Use with caution in individuals with bronchial asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • Cardiovascular Diseases: Patients with heart conditions, especially those prone to bradycardia, should use pilocarpine cautiously.
  • Cataracts: The drug-induced myopia can worsen symptoms related to cataracts.

Drug Interactions

  • Cholinergic Drugs: May enhance the effects of Pilocarpine.
  • Beta-Blockers: Used in glaucoma therapy, these can further decrease intraocular pressure when used with Pilocarpine.
  • Anticholinergic Medications: These may negate Pilocarpine’s effects.

Special Considerations

  • Elderly Patients: They may exhibit increased sensitivity to the systemic effects of Pilocarpine.
  • Administration in Eye Conditions: Proper administration techniques are vital for maximizing therapeutic effects and minimizing systemic absorption when used for glaucoma.


Pilocarpine stands out as a critical agent in ophthalmology, particularly for glaucoma management, and its role in treating xerostomia illustrates its therapeutic versatility. Despite its benefits, the inherent cholinergic properties of Pilocarpine necessitate vigilant monitoring for adverse effects and potential drug interactions.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *