The treatment of cough is a significant clinical unmet need because there is little evidence that current therapies are effective. Based on evidence supporting a role for N-methyl d-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) in cough, we hypothesized that memantine, a low-affinity, uncompetitive NMDAR channel blocker in routine use for the treatment of Alzheimer disease, could be an effective, well-tolerated, antitussive therapy. The aim of this study was to establish preclinical evidence that memantine has antitussive effects.
We studied the influence of memantine on experimentally induced coughing in response to citric acid and bradykinin inhalation in guinea pigs. We also compared the potency and efficacy of memantine as an antitussive to other NMDAR antagonists, dextromethorphan and ketamine, and to the γ-aminobutyric acid class B receptor agonist baclofen.
Compared with control subjects, 10 mg/kg memantine significantly reduced the cumulative number of coughs evoked by both citric acid (median, 24.0 [interquartile range (IQR), 13.0-25.5] vs 1.5 [IQR, 0.3-10.3] coughs; P = .012) and bradykinin aerosols (median, 16.0 [IQR, 9.5-18.5] vs 0.0 [IQR, 0-0.75] coughs; P = .002). Memantine 10 mg/kg produced a similar reduction in the cumulative number of coughs to baclofen 3 mg/kg and demonstrated comparatively greater cough suppression than 30 mg/kg dextromethorphan or 30 mg/kg ketamine. This dose of memantine produced no sedative or respiratory depressive effects.
This study illustrates that memantine has marked antitussive effects in guinea pigs, most likely mediated through NMDAR channel blockade. Memantine, therefore, has the potential to be a safe, effective, and well-tolerated antitussive agent.