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Anesthesiology. 1993 Jul;79(1):16-22.

Subanesthetic concentrations of isoflurane suppress learning as defined by the category-example task.

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  • 1Department of Anesthesia, University of California, San Francisco 94143-0648.



Previously, we found unconscious (implicit) learning in subjects given subanesthetic, but not anesthetic, concentrations of isoflurane. Other investigators, using different learning tasks, have reported implicit learning at anesthetic concentrations. We investigated whether one of these tasks might provide a more sensitive test of implicit learning. In addition, to determine whether suppression of explicit or implicit learning is dose-dependent, we studied one of the tasks at three subanesthetic concentrations.


We applied a category-example task at 0.15, 0.28, and 0.4 minimum alveolar concentration (MAC) of isoflurane, and a behavior task only at 0.4 MAC. After anesthesia, we determined whether volunteers more frequently listed an example of a category (e.g., flute as an example of musical instrument) presented during anesthesia and/or demonstrated a behavior (touching ear, chin, or knee) suggested to them at 0.4 MAC.


Results from the category task indicated implicit learning only at 0.15 MAC, a concentration that also permitted significant explicit learning. Explicit learning was demonstrated at 0.28 but not at 0.4 MAC (ED50 of 0.20 MAC and ED95 of 0.4 MAC). Results from the behavior task revealed neither implicit nor explicit learning.


The ED50 that suppressed explicit learning in our volunteers equaled that previously reported (0.2 MAC) for implicit learning in volunteers measured using a different task. Combined, these results suggest that less than 0.45 MAC isoflurane suppresses learning in volunteers.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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