If you’re planning to have major surgery soon, you might not want to read this next sentence. Scientists don’t actually know why general anesthesia works—though some scientists in Australia think they might be one step closer to the answer.
We do know the basics: breathe in, get knocked out. (Another common option is to have the drugs introduced using an intravenous line.) The “knocked out” part happens because the general anesthesia forces your brain cells to communicate with each other less.
If that sounds vague, too bad. That’s all we know for sure.
What they found is that common anesthetics like propofol and etomidate appear to prevent a protein called syntaxin1A from moving around the plasma membrane of a cell.
If we know exactly what anesthesia is doing, it might help us explain some of the side effects people experience when they wake up, the study authors said in a press release.
However, while the mechanism they’ve found is a plausible explanation, the authors note more research would need to be done to prove that what they’ve found in flies is what’s really happening in humans.
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