Towards a Comprehensive Understanding of Anesthetic Mechanisms of Action: A Decade of Discovery

Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2019 Jul;40(7):464-481. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2019 May 27.


Significant progress has been made in the 21st century towards a comprehensive understanding of the mechanisms of action of general anesthetics, coincident with progress in structural biology and molecular, cellular, and systems neuroscience. This review summarizes important new findings that include target identification through structural determination of anesthetic binding sites, details of receptors and ion channels involved in neurotransmission, and the critical roles of neuronal networks in anesthetic effects on memory and consciousness. These recent developments provide a comprehensive basis for conceptualizing pharmacological control of amnesia, unconsciousness, and immobility.

Keywords: consciousness; cortex; hippocampus; hypothalamus; ion channel; memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, General / methods
  • Anesthetics, General / administration & dosage
  • Anesthetics, General / adverse effects
  • Anesthetics, General / chemistry
  • Anesthetics, General / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Consciousness / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Receptors, GABA-A / chemistry
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Sleep / drug effects
  • Structure-Activity Relationship
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects


  • Anesthetics, General
  • Receptors, GABA-A