Principles of Drug Action
Drugs (except those gene based) do not impart new functions to any system, organ or cell; they only alter the pace of ongoing activity. However, this alone can have profound medicinal as well as toxicological impact. The basic types of drug action can be broadly classed as:
1. Stimulation :- It refers to selective enhancement of the level of activity of specialized cells, e.g. adrenaline stimulates heart, pilocarpine stimulates salivary glands. However, excessive stimulation is often followed by depression of that function, e.g. high dose of picrotoxin, a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, produces convulsions followed by coma and respiratory depression.
2. Depression :- It means selective diminution of activity of specialized cells, e.g. barbiturates depress CNS, quinidine depresses heart, omeprazole depresses gastric acid secretion. Certain drugs stimulate one type of cells but depress the other, e.g. acetylcholine stimulates intestinal smooth muscle but depresses SA node in heart. Thus, most drugs cannot be simply classed as stimulants or depressants.
3. Irritation :- This connotes a nonselective, often noxious effect and is particularly applied to less specialized cells (epithelium, connective tissue). Strong irritation results in inflammation, corrosion, necrosis and morphological damage. This may result in diminution or loss of function.
4. Replacement :- This refers to the use of natural metabolites, hormones or their congeners in deficiency states, e.g. levodopa in parkinsonism, insulin in diabetes mellitus, iron in anaemia.
5. Cytotoxic action :- Selective cytotoxic action on invading parasites or cancer cells, attenuating them without
significantly affecting the host cells is utilized for cure/palliation of infections and neoplasms, e.g. penicillin, chloroquine, zidovudine, cyclophosphamide, etc.
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