Many naturalistic studies agree that adverse drug reactions (ADRs), particularly cognitive deficits, frequently occur when medications with anticholinergic activity are used in geriatric patients. However, the studies disagree on which anticholinergic drugs may have clinical relevance. The three most important methods to establish clinically relevant anticholinergic activity are: 1) the drugs affinity for muscarinic receptors, demonstrated by in vitro studies and a profile compatible with antagonist properties; 2) serum anticholinergic activity measured by radioreceptor assay; and 3) the presence of typical antimuscarinic ADRs, such as dry mouth and constipation, in patient studies or clinical trials. More recently, brain imaging of muscarinic receptors and scales for quantifying antimuscarinic activity were developed. A comprehensive approach can be crafted only by paying attention to the pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic mechanisms of these drugs. ADR studies on drugs with anticholinergic activity should not only consider central muscarinic receptor blockade, but also peripheral receptor blockade. The ability to cross the blood-brain barrier is important in the drugs ADR profile. Patient personal characteristics, drug-drug interactions (DDIs) and probably genetic variations may contribute to increased ADR risk through pharmacokinetic and/or pharmacodynamic mechanisms. Sophisticated clinical designs and the evidence-based medicine approach cannot succeed unless the list of drugs of anticholinergic activity is agreed upon, and the studies include a sophisticated pharmacological approach guided by our current understanding of their pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic mechanisms. If one agrees that antimuscarinic ADRs are probably dose-related, future studies must consider all drugs, administration routes, doses, muscarinic receptor affinity, DDIs, and brain access.
Keywords: Anticholinergic, cholinergic antagonists, muscarinic antagonists, muscarinic receptors, pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, serum anticholinergic activity, Parkinson's disease, diphenhydramine, trihexyphenidyl