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Thread: Discovery of the mechanism of anesthesia

  1. #1

    Discovery of the mechanism of anesthesia

    Many people take anesthesia for granted and few know that scientists did not know the mechanism of anesthesia until quite recently. What? You must be kidding, you are probably thinking. Everybody on this site probably has had anesthesia that puts you to "sleep" and allows you to be operated on without pain. While many substances are known to be anesthetic, the mechanism by which they work was not known.

    Truly, honestly, really... scientists did not know. I was taught that anesthetic agents altered the lipid fluidity of membranes and this somehow turned off the right types of neurons in the brain so that the patient becomes unconscious without any major effects on the heart, lung, kidney, and other vital functions. How could this be possible that we don't know?

    The key appears to be a calcium channel called TRPC5 (Transient Receptor Potential C5). This calcium channel was originally discovered by Drosophila (the common fruit fly) and was called TRP. Although a number of factors are known to activate this channel (allowing calcium to move into the cells) and these included carbachol, gadolinium, and lysophosphatydyl choline, nobody had a clue concerning what this channel did.

    The discovery came as a result of a serendipitous discovery by a graduate student named Yahya Bahnasi at Leeds University (Source). He noticed that tiny amounts of chloroform blocked the TRPC5 channel. This was because the lipids that he was embedding the channel into were packed in chloroform.

    So what is chloroform? It just happens to be the original, the first anethestic agent. This was the stuff that was put into handkerchiefs to knock out people in mystery novels. It was also the first widely used anesthetic agents. By brute force testing, a number of other compounds were found to have similar properties, including halothane, fluorothane, isoflurane, and other halogenated hydrocarbon gases. More recently, a drug called propofol was found to be a good anesthetic. Propofol, for example, is often used for colonoscopies.

    As it turns out, chloroform, all the halogenated anesthetic agents, and propofol all block the TRPC5 at very low concentrations (0.1 to 0.2 nM), as published in January in the British Journal of Pharmacology (Source). So Yanya will be very famous for having discovered the basis of anesthesia. A lot of work still needs to be done of course but bravo for a graduate student.


  2. #2
    Senior Member Ashley's Avatar
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    Feb 2007
    St. Louis, Missouri
    glad one of you scientists is figuring this out!
    Courage, it would seem, is nothing less than the power to overcome danger, misfortune, fear, injustice, while continuing to affirm inwardly that life with all its sorrows is good; that everything is meaningful even if in a sense beyond our understanding; and that there is always tomorrow.
    -Dorothy Thompson

  3. #3


    is this a calcium ion channel that we share with the fruitfly?

  4. #4
    But of course, why didn't I think of that? LOL
    C-5/6, 7-9-2000
    Scottsdale, AZ

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