Breakdown of neural function under isoflurane anesthesia: In Vivo, Multineuronal Imaging in Caenorhabditis elegans

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Background: Previous work on the action of volatile anesthetics has focused at either the molecular level or bulk neuronal measurement such as electroencephalography or functional magnetic resonance imaging. There is a distinct gulf in resolution at the level of cellular signaling within neuronal systems. The authors hypothesize that anesthesia is caused by induced dyssynchrony in cellular signaling rather than suppression of individual neuron activity. Methods: Employing confocal microscopy and Caenorhabditis elegans expressing the calcium-sensitive fluorophore GCaMP6s in specific command neurons, the authors measure neuronal activity noninvasively and in parallel within the behavioral circuit controlling forward and reverse crawling. The authors compare neuronal dynamics and coordination in a total of 31 animals under atmospheres of 0, 4, and 8% isoflurane. Results: When not anesthetized, the interneurons controlling forward or reverse crawling occupy two possible states, with the activity of the “reversal” neurons AVA, AVD, AVE, and RIM strongly intercorrelated, and the “forward” neuron AVB anticorrelated. With exposure to 4% isoflurane and onset of physical quiescence, neuron activity wanders rapidly and erratically through indeterminate states. Neuron dynamics shift toward higher frequencies, and neuron pair correlations within the system are reduced. At 8% isoflurane, physical quiescence continues as neuronal signals show diminished amplitude with little correlation between neurons. Neuronal activity was further studied using statistical tools from information theory to quantify the type of disruption caused by isoflurane. Neuronal signals become noisier and more disordered, as measured by an increase in the randomness of their activity (Shannon entropy). The coordination of the system, measured by whether information exhibited in one neuron is also exhibited in other neurons (multiinformation), decreases significantly at 4% isoflurane (P = 0.00015) and 8% isoflurane (P = 0.0028). Conclusions: The onset of anesthesia corresponds with high-frequency randomization of individual neuron activity coupled with induced dyssynchrony and loss of coordination between neurons that disrupts functional signaling.




Awal, M. R., Austin, D., Florman, J., Alkema, M., Gabel, C. V., & Connor, C. W. (2018). Breakdown of neural function under isoflurane anesthesia: In Vivo, Multineuronal Imaging in Caenorhabditis elegans. Anesthesiology, 129(4), 733–743.

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