Study uncovers clues to what makes anesthetics work

December 21, 2011

SEATTLE -- Physicians use inhalation anesthetics in a way that is incredibly safe for patients, but very little is known about the intricacies of how these drugs actually work in children and adults. Now, researchers have uncovered what cells respond to anesthesia in an organism known as the C. elegans, according to a new study from the Seattle Children's Research Institute. C. elegans is a transparent roundworm used often in research. The study, "Optical reversal of halothane-induced immobility in C. elegans," is published in the December 20, 2011 issue of Current Biology.

"Our findings tell us what cells and channels are important in making the anesthetic work," said lead author Phil Morgan, MD, researcher at Seattle Children's Research Institute and University of Washington professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine. "The scientific community has attempted to uncover the secrets of how anesthetics work since the 1860s, and we now have at least part of the answer." Margaret Sedensky, MD, Seattle Children's Research Institute and a UW professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine, and Vinod Singaram, graduate student, Case Western Reserve University, are co-lead authors of the study.

The team studied the roundworm after inserting a pigment or protein typically found in the retina of a human eye -- called a retinal-dependent rhodopsin channel -- into its cells. The proteins in cell membranes act as channels to help movement. Researchers then used a blue light, activating channels in the roundworm that allowed the immediate reversal of anesthetics, and resulting in the roundworm waking up and seemingly swimming off the slide. A video of a roundworm reacting to the blue light, waking up from anesthesia can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhtFvKlnwxU

The team's findings won't immediately translate into a discovery that would be available for humans, cautioned Dr. Morgan, who has been working in this field for some 25 years. "But it tells us what function we have to treat to try to do so," he said.

"We believe that there is a class of potassium channels in humans that are crucial in this process of how anesthetics work and that they are perhaps the ones that are sensitive to potential anesthesia reversal. There are drugs for blocking these channels and with these same drugs, maybe we can eventually reverse anesthesia." Potassium channels are found in all living organisms and in most cell types, and they control a wide variety of cell functions.

Anesthesia medications are used in both children and adults, but many are used more often in kids. Dr. Morgan and his colleagues plan to replicate the study in other animal models, starting with a mouse.
-end-
Other co-authors for the study include: Benjamin Somerlot, graduate student, Case Western Reserve University; Dr. Scott Falk, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and Dr. Marni Falk, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

The study "Optical reversal of halothane-induced immobility in C. elegans," in Current Biology can be found here: http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(11)01203-6

About Seattle Children's Research Institute

At the forefront of pediatric medical research, Seattle Children's Research Institute is setting new standards in pediatric care and finding new cures for childhood diseases. Internationally recognized scientists and physicians at the Research Institute are advancing new discoveries in cancer, genetics, immunology, pathology, infectious disease, injury prevention, and bioethics. With Seattle Children's Hospital and Seattle Children's Hospital Foundation, the Research Institute brings together the best minds in pediatric research to provide patients with the best care possible. Children's serves as the primary teaching, clinical, and research site for the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine, which consistently ranks as one of the best pediatric departments in the country. For more information, visit http://www.seattlechildrens.org/research

Seattle Children's

Related Anesthesia Articles from Brightsurf:

Does general anesthesia increase dementia risk?
There are concerns that exposure to general anesthesia during surgery may contribute to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease.

Cannabis use prompts need for more anesthesia during surgery, increases pain
Not only might cannabis users require more anesthesia during surgery than non-users, they may have increased pain afterwards and use higher doses of opioids while in the hospital, suggests first-of-its kind research being presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2020 annual meeting.

COVID-19 testing of children before anesthesia saves PPE
Universal COVID-19 testing of children who are having procedures requiring anesthesia promotes efficient use of personal protective equipment (PPE), according to research being presented at the ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2020 annual meeting.

How do we disconnect from the environment during sleep and under anesthesia?
A series of new studies by researchers at Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience finds, among other important discoveries, that noradrenaline, a neurotransmitter secreted in response to stress, lies at the heart of our ability to ''shut off'' our sensory responses and sleep soundly.

Scientists unveil how general anesthesia works
The discovery of general anesthetics -- compounds which induce unconsciousness, prevent control of movement and block pain -- helped transform dangerous operations into safe surgery.

Surgery with anesthesia not linked to indicator of Alzheimer's, Mayo study finds
Older adults who have surgery with general anesthesia may experience a modest acceleration of cognitive decline, even years later.

Choice of anesthesia may affect breast cancer metastases
A new study led by Stony Brook University Cancer Center researchers to be published in Nature Communications suggests that the choice of anesthesia may change the metastatic process of breast cancer by affecting the cytokine and microenvironment.

Is headache from anesthesia after childbirth associated with risk of bleeding around brain?
This study examined whether postpartum women with headache from anesthesia after neuraxial anesthesia (such as epidural) during childbirth had increased risk of being diagnosed with bleeding around the brain (intracranial subdural hematoma).

Music can be a viable alternative to medications in reducing anxiety before anesthesia
Music is a viable alternative to sedative medications in reducing patient anxiety prior to a peripheral nerve block procedure, according to a new Penn Medicine study.

In cases when patients under anesthesia experience anaphylaxis, hyperactive immune...
A study of 86 patients reveals how drugs used for anesthesia can induce life-threatening anaphylaxis (a dangerous type of allergic reaction) through an alternative immune pathway.

Read More: Anesthesia News and Anesthesia Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.