Editorial  |   July 2020
Anesthesia as Decoupling?
Author Notes
  • From the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California.
  • This editorial accompanies the article on p. 133.
    This editorial accompanies the article on p. 133.×
  • Accepted for publication April 17, 2020. Published online first on May 26, 2020.
    Accepted for publication April 17, 2020. Published online first on May 26, 2020.×
  • Address correspondence to Dr. Hudson: ahudson@mednet.ucla.edu
Article Information
Editorial / Central and Peripheral Nervous Systems / Pharmacology
Editorial   |   July 2020
Anesthesia as Decoupling?
Anesthesiology 7 2020, Vol.133, 11-12. doi:https://doi.org/10.1097/ALN.0000000000003366
Anesthesiology 7 2020, Vol.133, 11-12. doi:https://doi.org/10.1097/ALN.0000000000003366
A cardinal effect of general anesthetics is loss of consciousness. However, disruption of consciousness may be a happy accident; that is, the fundamental common mechanism of anesthetic drug effect may have nothing to do with a special targeting of conscious processing, as opposed to a generic effect on all neurons. After all, anesthetic drugs effect a remarkably wide range of organisms, incapacitating vertebrates, slowing organ movements of plants,1  and even halting the environmental responsiveness of amoebae.2  As organisms become simpler, it is hard to argue these organisms even have a consciousness to be disrupted because we have difficulty with the very idea of such organisms having a subjective experience. But even these putatively nonconscious model organisms provide an opportunity to understand key features of the mechanisms of anesthetics. An emerging view is that the common effect of general anesthetics is to increase the modularity of communication networks—that is, anesthetics interrupt connections that normally exist between networks so that the networks are dominated by local activity—thereby disrupting the efficiency of information transfer through the organism and isolating the organism from its surroundings.3