General anesthetics do more than put you to sleep

January 9, 2018, University of Queensland
A representation of thousands of tracked syntaxin1A molecules in a neuron exposed to propofol. Credit: Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen

A new understanding of the complex ways in which general anaesthetics act on the brain could eventually lead to improved drugs for surgery. It remains unclear how general anaesthesia works, even though it is one of the most common medical procedures worldwide.

University of Queensland researcher, Associate Professor Bruno van Swinderen, said his team had overturned previous understanding of what do to the , finding the drugs did much more than induce sleep.

"We looked at the effects of propofol - one of the most common general anaesthetic drugs used during surgery - on synaptic release," the UQ Queensland Brain Institute scientist said.

Synaptic release is the mechanism by which neurons - or nerve cells - communicate with each other.

"We know from previous research that general anaesthetics including propofol act on sleep systems in the brain, much like a sleeping pill," Associate Professor van Swinderen said.

"But our study found that propofol also disrupts presynaptic mechanisms, probably affecting communication between neurons across the entire brain in a systematic way that differs from just being asleep. In this way it is very different than a sleeping pill."

PhD student Adekunle Bademosi said the discovery shed new light on how general anaesthetics worked on the brain.

"We found that propofol restricts the movement of a key protein (syntaxin1A) required at the synapses of all neurons. This restriction leads to decreased communication between neurons in the brain," he said.

Associate Professor van Swinderen said the finding contributed to understanding how general anaesthetics worked, and could explain why people experienced grogginess and disorientation after coming out of surgery.

"We think that widespread disruption to synaptic connectivity - the brain's communication pathways - is what makes surgery possible, although effective anaesthetics such as do put you to sleep first," he said.

"The discovery has implications for people whose brain connectivity is vulnerable, for example in children whose brains are still developing or for people with Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.

"It has never been understood why general anaesthesia is sometimes problematic for the very young and the old. This newly discovered may be a reason."

Associate Professor van Swinderen said more research was needed to determine if general anaesthetics had any lasting effects in these vulnerable groups of people.

"Studying these effects in model systems such as rats and flies allows us to address these questions by manipulating the likely mechanisms involved, which we can't do in humans."

The research involved Professor Frederic Meunier's laboratory at QBI, where super-resolution microscopy techniques enabled the researchers to understand how the worked on single cells. Dr Victor Anggono, whose laboratory at QBI focusses on synaptic mechanisms, was a partner in the study.

The research is published in Cell Reports.

Explore further: Supercomputer study unlocks secrets of brain and safer anesthetics

More information: Cell Reports, www.cell.com/cell-reports/full … 2211-1247(17)31878-8

Related Stories

Supercomputer study unlocks secrets of brain and safer anesthetics

May 22, 2017
Researchers have used a supercomputer to show how proteins in the brain control electrical signals, in a breakthrough that could lead to safer and more effective drugs and anaesthetics.

Type of anaesthesia used during breast cancer surgery may affect the risk of cancer recurrence

July 14, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Breast cancer is one of the main causes of cancer-related death in women. According to the National Cancer Registry, breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed form of cancer in Ireland representing ...

Finding the tipping point for sleep

January 5, 2018
Sleep is essential for many aspects of normal life, but how we actually fall asleep remains a mystery.

Recommended for you

The importins of anxiety

December 11, 2018
According to some estimates, up to one in three people around the world may experience severe anxiety in their lifetime. In a study described today in Cell Reports, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have revealed ...

How returning to a prior context briefly heightens memory recall

December 11, 2018
Whether it's the pleasant experience of returning to one's childhood home over the holidays or the unease of revisiting a site that proved unpleasant, we often find that when we return to a context where an episode first ...

Neurons in the brain work as a team to guide movement of arms, hands

December 11, 2018
The apparent simplicity of picking up a cup of coffee or turning a doorknob belies the complex sequence of calculations and processes that the brain must undergo to identify the location of an item in space, move the arm ...

The richer the reward, the faster you'll likely move to reach it, study shows

December 11, 2018
If you are wondering how long you personally are willing to stand in line to buy that hot new holiday gift, scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine say the answer may be found in the biological rules governing how animals typically ...

Using neurofeedback to prevent PTSD in soldiers

December 11, 2018
A team of researchers from Israel, the U.S. and the U.K. has found that using neurofeedback could prevent soldiers from experiencing PTSD after engaging in emotionally difficult situations. In their paper published in the ...

Study: Age, race differences determine risk of stroke in women and men

December 11, 2018
A new study found that, between the ages of 45 and 74 years, white women were less likely to have a stroke than white men, but at age 75 and older, there was no difference in stroke risk between white women and men. In contrast, ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

KBK
not rated yet Jan 09, 2018
For example, in the young, does it actually shift the potentials in neural development?

After all, the brain is growing in neural connectivity at a furious pace. A fundamental interruption in this process, at any point, would be deemed as having an effect. On the face of it, it would be impossible to say otherwise.

What is the residual of the use of it in youth? What is the tipping point? The trick is, how much of an effect? What is the nature of the effect?

So who wants to do an LD50 test over a period of a few years on living mammalian young?

As that is what it is going to take to get to the bottom of this. Not very pretty as testing regimens go...

If I had to guess, prior to reading this article... I'd of guessed that a notable amount of work has already been done in this area.

But the article's focus says different.....and speaks on the idea of a potential train wreck hiding in the bushes...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.