The mechanisms of general anesthesia in the central nervous system are finally yielding to molecular examination. As a result of research during the past several decades, a group of ligand-gated ion channels have emerged as plausible targets for general anesthetics. Molecular biology techniques have greatly accelerated attempts to classify ligand-gated ion channel sensitivity to general anesthetics, and have identified the sites of receptor subunits critical for anesthetic modulation using chimeric and mutated receptors. The experimental data have facilitated the construction of tenable molecular models for anesthetic binding sites, which in turn allows structural predictions to be tested. In vivo significance of a putative anesthetic target can now be examined by targeted gene manipulations in mice. In this review, we summarize from a molecular perspective recent advances in our understanding of mechanisms of action of general anesthetics on ligand-gated ion channels.