Background: Functional magnetic resonance imaging offers a compelling, new perspective on altered brain function but is sparsely used in studies of anesthetic effect. To examine effects on verbal memory encoding, the authors imaged human brain response to auditory word stimulation using functional magnetic resonance imaging at different concentrations of an agent not previously studied, and tested memory after recovery.
Methods: Six male volunteers were studied breathing 0.0, 2.0, and 1.0% end-tidal sevoflurane (awake, deep, and light states, respectively) via laryngeal mask. In each condition, they heard 15 two-syllable English nouns via closed headphones. Each word was repeated 15 times (1/s), followed by 15 s of rest. Blood oxygenation level-dependent brain activations during blocks of stimulation versus rest were assessed with a 3-T Siemens Trio scanner and a 20-voxel spatial extent threshold. Memory was tested approximately 1.5 h after recovery with an auditory recognition task (chance performance = 33% correct).
Results: Scans showed widespread activations (P < 0.005, uncorrected) in the awake state, including bilateral superior temporal, frontal, and parietal cortex, right occipital cortex, bilateral thalamus, striatum, hippocampus, and cerebellum; more limited activations in the light state (bilateral superior temporal gyrus, right thalamus, bilateral parietal cortex, left frontal cortex, and right occipital cortex); and no significant auditory-related activation in the deep state. During recognition testing, subjects correctly selected 77 +/- 12% of words presented while they were awake as "old," versus 32 +/- 15 and 42 +/- 8% (P < 0.01) correct for the light and deep stages, respectively.
Conclusions: Sevoflurane induces dose-dependent suppression of auditory blood oxygenation level-dependent signals, which likely limits the ability of words to be processed during anesthesia and compromises memory.