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Study Provides New Clues Into How Anesthesia Works

Update Date: Nov 14, 2014 02:30 PM EST

Anesthesia, which is considered a blessing to patients and surgeons, has remain a mystery since its inception. Now, a new study is offering evidence that says the membrane proteins themselves are altered directly by anesthetics.

The study has found proteins that are affected by commonly used anesthesia. 

According the study, specifically, activity of ion channel proteins that are important for cell-to-cell communication is markedly reduced when anesthetics are applied.

"This is, to our knowledge, the first demonstration that anesthetics alter the function of relevant ion channels without altering properties of the cell membranes," said the study's lead investigator, Dr. Hugh C. Hemmings, Jr ., professor and chair of anesthesiology at Weill Cornell, in the press release.

"Drugs are not perfect-they always have side effects," first author Dr. Karl Herold, a research associate in the Department of Anesthesiology who performed and analyzed the experiments, said in the press release. "You can only improve drugs if you know how they work, which means that you need to know when drugs have non-specific or undesired membrane effects," Dr. Olaf S. Andersen, a lipid bilayer expert and professor of physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell, added in the press release.

"Now that we have a basic understanding of how anesthetics affect cells in the central nervous system, we have knowledge to improve them. In the future, we may be able to design anesthetics that do just what we want them to do, and not what we don't."

The study was published in The Journal of General Physiology.

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