Why Does Anesthesia Cause Unconsciousness?

Research performed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology lends new insight into why inhaling anesthetics causes unconsciousness, according to an e! Science News report.

The study found that anesthesia may affect the organization of lipids in a cell's outer membrane, potentially altering the ability to send signals along nerve cell membranes. Researchers used neutron and X-ray diffraction devices to explore how a model cell membrane responded to two chemicals: inhaled anesthetic and a chemical that does not cause unconsciousness but possesses similar properties.

Researchers found a significant difference in the way the lipid rafts responded. Exposing the membranes to an anesthetic caused the rafts to grow in a disorderly manner, mixing lipids with the surrounding membrane. The second chemical had a drastically smaller effect.

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