Location of the mesopontine neurons responsible for maintenance of anesthetic loss of consciousness

Anne Minert, Shai Lee Yatziv, Marshall Devor*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The transition from wakefulness to general anesthesia is widely attributed to suppressive actions of anesthetic molecules distributed by the systemic circulation to the cerebral cortex (for amnesia and loss of consciousness) and to the spinal cord (for atonia and antinocice-ption). An alternative hypothesis proposes that anesthetics act on one or more brainstem or diencephalic nuclei, with suppression of cortex and spinal cord mediated by dedicated axonal pathways. Previously, we documented induction of an anesthesia-like state in rats by microinjection of small amounts of GABAA-receptor agonists into an upper brainstem region named the mesopontine tegmental anesthesia area (MPTA). Correspondingly, lesioning this area rendered animals resistant to systemically delivered anesthetics. Here, using rats of both sexes, we applied a modified microinjection method that permitted localization of the anesthetic-sensitive neurons with much improved spatial resolution. Microinjected at the MPTA hotspot identified, exposure of 1900 or fewer neurons to muscimol was sufficient to sustain whole-body general anesthesia; microinjection as little as 0.5 mm off-target did not. The GABAergic anesthetics pentobarbital and propofol were also effective. The GABA-sensitive cell cluster is centered on a tegmental (reticular) field traversed by fibers of the superior cerebellar peduncle. It has no specific nuclear designation and has not previously been implicated in brain-state transitions.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)9320-9331
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number38
StatePublished - 20 Sep 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 the authors.


  • Anesthesia
  • Arousal
  • MPTA
  • Reticular formation
  • Syncope
  • Wet blanket hypothesis


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