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Eur J Neurosci. 2014 Aug;40(3):2487-501. doi: 10.1111/ejn.12601. Epub 2014 Apr 29.

The general anaesthetic etomidate inhibits the excitability of mouse thalamocortical relay neurons by modulating multiple modes of GABAA receptor-mediated inhibition.

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Division of Neuroscience, Medical Research Institute, University of Dundee, Ninewells Hospital and Medical School, Dundee, DD1 9SY, UK.


Modulation of thalamocortical (TC) relay neuron function has been implicated in the sedative and hypnotic effects of general anaesthetics. Inhibition of TC neurons is mediated predominantly by a combination of phasic and tonic inhibition, together with a recently described 'spillover' mode of inhibition, generated by the dynamic recruitment of extrasynaptic γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)A receptors (GABAA Rs). Previous studies demonstrated that the intravenous anaesthetic etomidate enhances tonic and phasic inhibition in TC relay neurons, but it is not known how etomidate may influence spillover inhibition. Moreover, it is unclear how etomidate influences the excitability of TC neurons. Thus, to investigate the relative contribution of synaptic (α1β2γ2) and extrasynaptic (α4β2δ) GABAA Rs to the thalamic effects of etomidate, we performed whole-cell recordings from mouse TC neurons lacking synaptic (α1(0/0) ) or extrasynaptic (δ(0/0) ) GABAA Rs. Etomidate (3 μm) significantly inhibited action-potential discharge in a manner that was dependent on facilitation of both synaptic and extrasynaptic GABAA Rs, although enhanced tonic inhibition was dominant in this respect. Additionally, phasic inhibition evoked by stimulation of the nucleus reticularis exhibited a spillover component mediated by δ-GABAA Rs, which was significantly prolonged in the presence of etomidate. Thus, etomidate greatly enhanced the transient suppression of TC spike trains by evoked inhibitory postsynaptic potentials. Collectively, these results suggest that the deactivation of thalamus observed during etomidate-induced anaesthesia involves potentiation of tonic and phasic inhibition, and implicate amplification of spillover inhibition as a novel mechanism to regulate the gating of sensory information through the thalamus during anaesthetic states.


nucleus reticularis; phasic inhibition; spill-over inhibition; thalamus; tonic inhibition

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