Effects of General Anesthetics on Synaptic Transmission and Plasticity

Curr Neuropharmacol. 2022;20(1):27-54. doi: 10.2174/1570159X19666210803105232.


General anesthetics depress excitatory and/or enhance inhibitory synaptic transmission principally by modulating the function of glutamatergic or GABAergic synapses, respectively, with relative anesthetic agent-specific mechanisms. Synaptic signaling proteins, including ligand- and voltage-gated ion channels, are targeted by general anesthetics to modulate various synaptic mechanisms, including presynaptic neurotransmitter release, postsynaptic receptor signaling, and dendritic spine dynamics to produce their characteristic acute neurophysiological effects. As synaptic structure and plasticity mediate higher-order functions such as learning and memory, long-term synaptic dysfunction following anesthesia may lead to undesirable neurocognitive consequences depending on the specific anesthetic agent and the vulnerability of the population. Here we review the cellular and molecular mechanisms of transient and persistent general anesthetic alterations of synaptic transmission and plasticity.

Keywords: Anesthesia; ion channels; postsynaptic structure; presynaptic function; synaptic plasticity; synaptic transmission.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics, General* / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Synapses
  • Synaptic Transmission


  • Anesthetics, General