Edrophonium (by the so-called Tensilon test) is used to differentiate myasthenia gravis from cholinergic crisis and Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome. In myasthenia gravis, the body produces autoantibodies which block, inhibit or destroy Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the neuromuscular junction. Edrophonium—an effective acetylcholinesterase inhibitor—will reduce the muscle weakness by blocking the enzymatic effect of acetylcholinesterase enzymes, prolonging the presence of acetylcholine in the synaptic cleft. In a cholinergic crisis, where a person has too much neuromuscular stimulation, edrophonium will make the muscle weakness worse by inducing a depolarizing block. Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome (LEMS), is similar to myasthenia gravis in that it is an autoimmune disease. However, in LEMS the neuron is unable to release enough acetylcholine for normal muscle function due to autoantibodies attacking P/Q-type calcium channel that are necessary for acetylcholine release. This means there is insufficient calcium ion influx into presynaptic terminal resulting in reduced exocytosis of acetylcholine containing vesicles. Consequently, there will typically be not as much increase in muscle strength observed after edrophonium injection, if any with LEMS.
The drug may also be used for postoperative decurarization.
Edrophonium, ethyl-(3-hydroxyphenyl)dimethylammonium chloride, is made by reacting 3-dimethylaminophenol with ethyl bromide, which forms ethyl(3-hydroxyphenyl)dimethylammonium bromide, the bromine atom of which is replaced with a chlorine atom by reacting it with silver chloride, giving edrophonium.