General anesthetics produce anesthesia by depressing central nervous system activity. Activation of inhibitory GABA(A) receptors plays a central role in the action of many clinically relevant general anesthetics. Even so, there is growing evidence that anesthetics can act at a presynaptic locus to inhibit neurotransmitter release. Our own data identified the neurotransmitter release machinery as a target for anesthetic action. In the present study, we sought to examine the site of anesthetic action more closely. Exocytosis was stimulated by directly elevating the intracellular Ca(2+) concentration at neurotransmitter release sites, thereby bypassing anesthetic effects on channels and receptors, allowing anesthetic effects on the neurotransmitter release machinery to be examined in isolation. Three different PC12 cell lines, which had the expression of different release machinery proteins stably suppressed by RNA interference, were used in these studies. Interestingly, there was still significant neurotransmitter release when these knockdown PC12 cells were stimulated. We have previously shown that etomidate, isoflurane, and propofol all inhibited the neurotransmitter release machinery in wild-type PC12 cells. In the present study, we show that knocking down synaptotagmin I completely prevented etomidate from inhibiting neurotransmitter release. Synaptotagmin I knockdown also diminished the inhibition produced by propofol and isoflurane, but the magnitude of the effect was not as large. Knockdown of SNAP-25 and SNAP-23 expression also changed the ability of these three anesthetics to inhibit neurotransmitter release. Our results suggest that general anesthetics inhibit the neurotransmitter release machinery by interacting with multiple SNARE and SNARE-associated proteins.