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Chapter: Basic & Clinical Pharmacology : Antiseizure Drugs


It was later reported that primidone was metabolized to phenobarbital and phenylethylmalonamide (PEMA). All three compounds are active anticonvulsants.


Primidone, or 2-desoxyphenobarbital (Figure 24–6), was first marketed in the early 1950s. It was later reported that primidone was metabolized to phenobarbital and phenylethylmalonamide (PEMA). All three compounds are active anticonvulsants.

Mechanism of Action

Although primidone is converted to phenobarbital, the mechanism of action of primidone itself may be more like that of phenytoin.

Clinical Uses

Primidone, like its metabolites, is effective against partial seizures and generalized tonic-clonic seizures and may be more effective than phenobarbital. It was previously considered to be the drug of choice for complex partial seizures, but later studies of partial sei-zures in adults strongly suggest that carbamazepine and phenytoin are superior to primidone. Attempts to determine the relative potencies of the parent drug and its two metabolites have been conducted in newborn infants, in whom drug-metabolizing enzyme systems are very immature and in whom primidone is only slowly metabolized. Primidone has been shown to be effec-tive in controlling seizures in this group and in older patients beginning treatment with primidone; older patients show seizure control before phenobarbital concentrations reach the therapeutic range. Finally, studies of maximal electroshock seizures in animals suggest that primidone has an anticonvulsant action independent of its conversion to phenobarbital and PEMA (the latter is relatively weak).


Primidone is completely absorbed, usually reaching peak concen-trations about 3 hours after oral administration, although consid-erable variation has been reported. Primidone is generally distributed in total body water, with a volume of distribution of 0.6 L/kg. It is not highly bound to plasma proteins; approximately 70% circulates as unbound drug.

Primidone is metabolized by oxidation to phenobarbital, which accumulates very slowly, and by scission of the heterocyclic ring to form PEMA (Figure 24–6). Both primidone and pheno-barbital also undergo subsequent conjugation and excretion.

Primidone has a larger clearance than most other antiseizure drugs (2 L/kg/d), corresponding to a half-life of 6–8 hours. PEMA clearance is approximately half that of primidone, but phenobarbital has a very low clearance (see Table 3–1). The appearance of phenobarbital corresponds to the disappearance of primidone. Phenobarbital therefore accumulates very slowly but eventually reaches therapeutic concentrations in most patients when therapeutic doses of primidone are administered. During chronic therapy, phenobarbital levels derived from primidone are usually two to three times higher than primidone levels.

Therapeutic Levels & Dosage

Primidone is most efficacious when plasma levels are in the range of 8–12 mcg/mL. Concomitant levels of its metabolite, pheno-barbital, at steady state usually vary from 15 to 30 mcg/mL. Dosages of 10–20 mg/kg/d are necessary to obtain these levels. It is very important, however, to start primidone at low doses and gradually increase over days to a few weeks to avoid prominent sedation and gastrointestinal complaints. When adjusting doses of the drug, it is important to remember that the parent drug reaches steady state rapidly (30–40 hours), but the active metabo-lites phenobarbital (20 days) and PEMA (3–4 days) reach steady state much more slowly.


The dose-related adverse effects of primidone are similar to those of its metabolite, phenobarbital, except that drowsiness occurs early in treatment and may be prominent if the initial dose is too large. Gradual increments are indicated when starting the drug in either children or adults.

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