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Home E-Weekly July 22, 2014

Brain Pathways to Anesthesia Emergence

Published: July 21, 2014

The stimulation of a dopamine-producing region of the brain may actively restore consciousness to anesthetized patients, researchers have found, which could provide a greater understanding of how anesthesia drugs work.

The researchers' findings are published in the August issue of the journal Anesthesiology. For their study, they administered isoflurane or propofol to laboratory rats, then targeted electrical stimulation to their brains, which caused them to wake.

Ken Solt, MD, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston and lead author of the study, notes that "patients should not be under general anesthesia longer than necessary," but that providers don't currently have reversal agents, other than waiting for the drugs to wear off. "Having the ability to control the process of arousal from general anesthesia would be advantageous as it might speed recovery to normal cognition after surgery and enhance operating room efficiencies."

The stimulation produced similar results to those of other recent studies, in which the drug methylphenidate awakened patients, leading researchers to believe that the affected brain region drives emergence to consciousness and could play a role in treating post-op delirium or impaired cognitive function.

David Bernard

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