Mesopontine Switch for the Induction of General Anesthesia by Dedicated Neural Pathways

Anesth Analg. 2016 Nov;123(5):1274-1285. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0000000000001489.


We review evidence that the induction of anesthesia with GABAergic agents is mediated by a network of dedicated axonal pathways, which convey a suppressive signal to remote parts of the central nervous system. The putative signal originates in an anesthetic-sensitive locus in the brainstem that we refer to as the mesopontine tegmental anesthesia area (MPTA). This architecture stands in contrast to the classical notion that anesthetic molecules themselves directly mediate anesthetic induction after global distribution by the vascular circulation. The MPTA came to light in a systematic survey of the rat brain as a singular locus at which microinjection of minute quantities of GABAergic anesthetics is able to reversibly induce a state resembling surgical anesthesia. The rapid onset of anesthesia, the observed target specificity, and the fact that effective doses are far too small to survive dilution during vascular redistribution to distant areas in the central nervous system are all incompatible with the classical global suppression model. Lesioning the MPTA selectively reduces the animal's sensitivity to systemically administered anesthetics. Taken together, the microinjection data show that it is sufficient to deliver γ-aminobutyric acid A receptor (GABAA-R) agonists to the MPTA to induce an anesthesia-like state and the lesion data indicate that MPTA neurons are necessary for anesthetic induction by the systemic route at clinically relevant doses. Known connectivity of the MPTA provides a scaffold for defining the specific projection pathways that mediate each of the functional components of anesthesia. Because MPTA lesions do not induce coma, the MPTA is not a key arousal nucleus essential for maintaining the awake state. Rather, it appears be a "gatekeeper" of arousal function, a major element in a flip-flop switching mechanism that executes rapid and reversible transitions between the awake and the anesthetic state.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, General / methods*
  • Anesthetics, General / administration & dosage*
  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Mesencephalon / drug effects
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / drug effects
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Pons / drug effects
  • Pons / physiology*


  • Anesthetics, General