Molecular properties of the "ideal" inhaled anesthetic: studies of fluorinated methanes, ethanes, propanes, and butanes

Anesth Analg. 1994 Aug;79(2):245-51. doi: 10.1213/00000539-199408000-00007.


We examined 35 unfluorinated, partially fluorinated, and perfluorinated methanes, ethanes, propanes, and butanes to define those molecular properties that best correlated with optimum solubility (low) and potency (high). Limited additional data were obtained on longer-chained alkanes. Using standard techniques, we assessed anesthetic potency (minimum alveolar anesthetic concentration [MAC] in rats); vapor pressure; stability in soda lime; and solubility in saline, human blood, and oil. If nonflammability, stability, low solubility in blood, clinically useful vapor pressures, and potency permitting delivery of high concentrations of oxygen are essential components of an anesthetic that might supplant those presently available, our data indicate that such a drug would have three or four carbon atoms with single or dual hydrogenation of two carbons, especially terminal carbons. We conclude that: 1) smaller and larger molecules and lesser hydrogenation provide insufficient potency; 2) high vapor pressures of smaller molecules do not permit the use of variable bypass vaporizers; 3) greater hydrogenation enhances flammability, and complete hydrogenation decreases potency; 4) internal hydrogenation decreases stability; and 5) greater hydrogenation increases blood solubility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkanes / chemistry*
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / chemistry*
  • Animals
  • Butanes / chemistry
  • Ethane / chemistry
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Fluorinated / chemistry*
  • Hydrogenation
  • Methane / chemistry
  • Pressure
  • Propane / chemistry
  • Rats
  • Solubility


  • Alkanes
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation
  • Butanes
  • Hydrocarbons, Fluorinated
  • Ethane
  • Methane
  • Propane