Interactions of anesthetics with the membrane-water interface

Chem Phys. 1996 Apr 1;204(2-3):337-45. doi: 10.1016/0301-0104(95)00292-8.


Although the potency of conventional anesthetics correlates with lipophilicity, an affinity to water also is essential. It was recently found that compounds with very low affinities to water do not produce anesthesia regardless of their lipophilicity. This finding implies that clinical anesthesia might arise because of interactions at molecular sites near the interface of neuronal membranes with the aqueous environment and, therefore, might require increased concentrations of anesthetic molecules at membrane interfaces. As an initial test of this hypothesis, we calculated in molecular dynamics simulations the free energy profiles for the transfer of anesthetic 1,1,2-trifluoroethane and nonanesthetic perfluoroethane across water-membrane and water-hexane interfaces. Consistent with the hypothesis, it was found that trifluoroethane, but not perfluoroethane, exhibits a free energy minimum and, therefore, increased concentrations at both interfaces. The transfer of trifluoroethane from water to the nonpolar hexane or interior of the membrane is accompanied by a considerable, solvent-induced shift in the conformational equilibrium around the C-C bond.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics / chemistry*
  • Anesthetics / pharmacokinetics*
  • Cell Membrane
  • Chemistry, Pharmaceutical
  • Fluorocarbons / chemistry
  • Hexanes / chemistry
  • Membrane Lipids / chemistry
  • Membranes, Artificial*
  • Molecular Conformation
  • Solubility
  • Water / chemistry


  • Anesthetics
  • Fluorocarbons
  • Hexanes
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Water
  • perfluoroethane