The effects of local anesthetics on cultivated macrophages were studied in living preparations and recorded in still pictures and time-lapse cine-micrographs. Exposure to 12mM lidocaine or 1.5 mM tetracaine resulted in rounding in 10-15 min. Rounding was characterized by cell contraction, marked increase in retraction fibrils, withdrawal of cell processes, and, in late stages, pulsation-like activity and zeiosis. Cells showed appreciable membrane activity as they rounded. Respreading was complete within 15 min of perfusion in drug-free medium and entailed a marked increase in surface motility over control periods. As many as eight successive cycles of rounding and spreading were obtained with lidocaine without evidence of cell damage. The effects of anesthetics were similar to those observed with EDTA, but ethylene-glycol-bis(beta-aminoethylether)-N, N'-tetraacetic acid-Mg was ineffective. Rounding was also induced by benzocaine, an anesthetic nearly uncharged at pH 7.0. Quaternary (nondischargeable) compounds were of low activity, presumably because they are slow permeants. Lidocaine induced rounding at 10 degrees C and above but was less effective at 5 degrees C and ineffective at 0 degrees C. Rounding by the anesthetic was also obtained in media depleted or Na or enriched with 10 mM Ca or Mg. The latter finding, together with the failure of tetrodotoxin to induce rounding, suggests that the anesthetic effect is unrelated to inhibition of sodium conductance. It is possible that the drugs influence divalent ion fluxes or some component of the contractile cells' machinery, but a metabolic target of action cannot yet be excluded.

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