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CNS Neurosci Ther. 2008 Summer;14(2):95-106. doi: 10.1111/j.1527-3458.2008.00043.x.

The experimental and clinical pharmacology of propofol, an anesthetic agent with neuroprotective properties.

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  • 1Department of Biofunctional Evaluation, Molecular Pharmacology, Gifu Pharmaceutical University, Gifu 502-8585, Japan.


Propofol (2,6-diisopropylphenol) is a versatile, short-acting, intravenous (i.v.) sedative-hypnotic agent initially marketed as an anesthetic, and now also widely used for the sedation of patients in the intensive care unit (ICU). At the room temperature propofol is an oil and is insoluble in water. It has a remarkable safety profile. Its most common side effects are dose-dependent hypotension and cardiorespiratory depression. Propofol is a global central nervous system (CNS) depressant. It activates gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA A) receptors directly, inhibits the N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor and modulates calcium influx through slow calcium-ion channels. Furthermore, at doses that do not produce sedation, propofol has an anxiolytic effect. It has also immunomodulatory activity, and may, therefore, diminish the systemic inflammatory response believed to be responsible for organ dysfunction. Propofol has been reported to have neuroprotective effects. It reduces cerebral blood flow and intracranial pressure (ICP), is a potent antioxidant, and has anti-inflammatory properties. Laboratory investigations revealed that it might also protect brain from ischemic injury. Propofol formulations contain either disodium edetate (EDTA) or sodium metabisulfite, which have antibacterial and antifungal properties. EDTA is also a chelator of divalent ions such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Recently, EDTA has been reported to exert a neuroprotective effect itself by chelating surplus intracerebral zinc in an ischemia model. This article reviews the neuroprotective effects of propofol and its mechanism of action.

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