New Study Debunks The Century-Old Theory Of How Anesthesia Works

Posted: Mar 9 2017, 9:00am CST | by , Updated: Mar 9 2017, 9:04am CST, in News | Latest Science News

New Study Debunks the Century-Old Theory of How Anesthesia Works
Painting from Robert Cutler Hinckley, "The First Operation with Ether,” depicting the first successful public demonstration of ether at Massachusetts General Hospital, which took place in 1846

New findings strongly support a modern hypothesis that anesthesia interacts directly with membrane proteins – rather than indirectly through the membrane

Anesthesia is used to prevent patients from feeling pain during surgeries. Although researchers are not sure exactly how it works, there are many theories that have been proposed over the years. The most widely accepted theory is that the anesthetics block neural function by disrupting fatty molecules in the cell membranes.

But a new research at Weill Cornell Medicine contradicts this century-old theory and supports the idea that anesthesia induces unconsciousness by directly effecting proteins located in the surface of the membrane that envelop cells.

“We have debunked a century-old hypothesis and finally have proof that these anesthetics must have a direct effect on integral membrane proteins – and not an indirect effect on proteins through the lipid bilayer – to put patients in a coma-like state, allowing them to undergo painful procedures with no memory or pain.” Co-researcher Dr. Hugh Hemmings from Cornell University said.

The original theory was put forward in 1900s and it dominated the research on anesthetics almost throughout the 20th century. By the 1970s, some researchers started challenging the concept and casted doubts on the reliability of the theory.

“Over time, more and more studies suggested that anesthetics interact directly with proteins, in particular with those on the surface of the cell membrane such as ion channels, which are important for cell-to-cell communication.” Lead researcher Dr. Karl Herold said.

To determine the precise biological mechanism behind anesthesia, researchers reconstructed a model cell surrounded by the thin membrane. They also constructed nerves that carry pain signals to the brain. The model was similar to the one found in our brain. Researchers then tested 13 anesthetic agents using a technique developed by Cornells own biophysics specialists and showed that none of them affected the lipid bilayer properties in the membrane. The anesthetic agents directly interacted with membrane proteins.

“That was a very surprising result," said co-author Dr. Olaf Andersen. "When we started conducting the experiments I was convinced we would see some effect on the bilayer. The fact that the results are as clean as they are was to me really amazing."

Understanding the mechanism of anesthetics can lead to the development of new anesthetic agents associated with fewer side effects.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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