Background: Temporary, antegrade amnesia is one of the core desirable endpoints of general anesthesia. Multiple lines of evidence support a role for the hippocampal θ rhythm, a synchronized rhythmic oscillation of field potentials at 4-12 Hz, in memory formation. Previous studies have revealed a disruption of the θ rhythm at surgical levels of anesthesia. We hypothesized that θ-rhythm modulation would also occur at subhypnotic but amnestic concentrations. Therefore, we examined the effect of three inhaled agents on properties of the θ rhythm considered critical for the formation of hippocampus-dependent memories.
Methods: We studied the effects of halothane and nitrous oxide, two agents known to modulate different molecular targets (GABAergic [γ-aminobutyric acid] vs. non-GABAergic, respectively) and isoflurane (GABAergic and non-GABAergic targets) on fear-conditioned learning and θ oscillations in freely behaving rats.
Results: All three anesthetics slowed θ peak frequency in proportion to their inhibition of fear conditioning (by 1, 0.7, and 0.5 Hz for 0.32% isoflurane, 60% N2O, and 0.24% halothane, respectively). Anesthetics inconsistently affected other characteristics of θ oscillations.
Conclusions: At subhypnotic amnestic concentrations, θ-oscillation frequency was the parameter most consistently affected by these three anesthetics. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that modulation of the θ rhythm contributes to anesthetic-induced amnesia.