A bolus of 30 micrograms X kg-1 fentanyl was given to nine preterm infants (gestational age 31.8 +/- 4.7 weeks, weight 1100 +/- 309 g) for induction of anesthesia for ligation of a patent ductus arteriosus. Thirty minutes after the injection, fentanyl plasma concentrations were between 7.7 and 13.6 ng X ml-1. Elimination half-life was 6-32 hr (mean +/- SD, 17.7 +/- 9.3). Systolic blood pressure remained stable throughout surgery. There was a gradual increase in heart rate from 159 +/- 12 min-1 at the time of skin incision to 173 +/- 15 min-1 at the time of skin closure (P less than 0.05). Fentanyl plasma concentrations remained virtually unchanged between 30 min (10.6 +/- 1.9 ng X ml-1) and 120 min (9.6 +/- 1.6 ng X ml-1); whereas at the end of surgery most infants moved and breathed spontaneously. This phenomenon can be explained by redistribution of fentanyl from brain into pharmacodynamically inert tissues.
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