General anesthetics have a more widespread effect on the brain than inducing sleep, suggests a new study that could lead to improved drugs for use in surgery.
The team, from the University of Queensland in Australia, write in the journal Cell Reports that their “findings may provide a more complete understanding of general anesthesia.”
Using a technique known as single-molecule imaging microscopy, the scientists were able to explore the effect of propofol, a common general anesthetic, on single cells.
Specifically, they studied the effect of the drug on synaptic release, which is a mechanism through which nerve cells, or neurons, communicate with one another.
“We know from previous research,” says senior study author Bruno van Swinderen, an associate professor in the Queensland Brain Institute, “that general anesthetics including propofol act on sleep systems in the brain, much like a sleeping pill.”