Major role for tonic GABAA conductances in anesthetic suppression of intrinsic neuronal excitability

J Neurophysiol. 2004 Sep;92(3):1658-67. doi: 10.1152/jn.00223.2004. Epub 2004 May 12.


Anesthetics appear to produce neurodepression by altering synaptic transmission and/or intrinsic neuronal excitability. Propofol, a widely used anesthetic, has proposed effects on many targets, ranging from sodium channels to GABA(A) inhibition. We examined effects of propofol on the intrinsic excitability of hippocampal CA1 neurons (primarily interneurons) recorded from adult rat brain slices. Propofol strongly depressed action potential production induced by DC injection, synaptic stimulation, or high-potassium solutions. Propofol-induced depression of intrinsic excitability was completely reversed by bicuculline and picrotoxin but was strychnine-insensitive, implicating GABA(A) but not glycine receptors. Propofol strongly enhanced inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) and induced a tonic GABA(A)-mediated current. We pharmacologically differentiated tonic and phasic (synaptic) GABA(A)-mediated inhibition using the GABA(A) receptor antagonist SR95531 (gabazine). Gabazine (20 microM) completely blocked both evoked and spontaneous IPSCs but failed to block the propofol-induced depression of intrinsic excitability, implicating tonic, but not phasic, GABA(A) inhibition. Glutamatergic synaptic responses were not altered by propofol (< or =30 microM). Similar results were found in both interneurons and pyramidal cells and with the chemically unrelated anesthetic thiopental. These results suggest that suppression of CA1 neuron intrinsic excitability, by these anesthetics, is largely due to activation of tonic GABA(A) conductances; although other sites of action may play important roles in affecting synaptic transmission, which also can produce strong neurodepression. We propose that for some anesthetics, suppression of intrinsic excitability, mediated by tonic GABA(A) conductances, operates in conjunction with effects on synaptic transmission, mediated by other mechanisms, to depress hippocampal function during anesthesia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics, Intravenous / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Bicuculline / pharmacology
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Interneurons / drug effects
  • Interneurons / physiology*
  • Propofol / pharmacology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, GABA-A / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Anesthetics, Intravenous
  • GABA-A Receptor Antagonists
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • Bicuculline
  • Propofol