Propofol, a common anesthetic, changes the way neurons work

common anesthetic changes the way neurons work
By BruceBlaus – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Propofol, a common anesthetic, changes the way neurons work

The most popular drug used to produce general anesthesia is propofol. Propofol is frequently used in clinical settings, but it is unclear exactly how it produces anesthesia.

In a recent study that was published in Molecular Biology of the Cell, a group of researchers from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute discovered a propofol action in neurons that was previously unrecognized. The study discovered that exposure to propofol affected how neurons move proteins, which are macromolecules that carry out the majority of cellular processes to the cell surface.

The effective movement of protein between compartments is essential for the functioning of nearly all animal cells, including human cells. In tiny carriers known as vesicles, proteins are transported from their source of synthesis to the location where they carry out their activity. To preserve cellular order and function, this transport must be effective and very specialized.

Dr. Marvin Bentley, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences whose lab studies vesicle transport in neurons, served as the team leader. Because human axons, which are frequently arranged in nerve bundles, can span distances of up to 1 meter, neurons are especially dependent on vesicle transport. Neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative illnesses including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s have been linked to vesicle transport errors.

According to this recent study, propofol has an impact on the kinesin protein family. Kinesins are small “motor proteins” that propel vesicles along microtubules, which are minuscule filaments.

The research team led by Dr. Bentley found that cells exposed to propofol had significantly less Kinesin-1 and Kinesin-3 vesicle mobility. The researchers subsequently demonstrated that protein delivery to axons was significantly reduced as a result of transport delays brought on by propofol.

Propofol’s mechanism of action is not fully understood, according to Bentley. What they found was unexpected: Propofol changed the way vesicles moved through living neurons.

Overall, the study greatly advances our knowledge of propofol’s mechanism of action. The majority of research on the anesthetic action of propofol has been on how it interacts with the GABAA receptor, an ion channel that, when activated, blocks neurotransmission.

According to this recent study, vesicle transfer is another mechanism that might be crucial for propofol’s anesthetic action. The identification of this novel propofol effect has substantial implications for human health and could result in the creation of more effective anesthetics.

According to Curt M. Breneman, dean of the School of Science, Dr. Bentley’s team has advanced the understanding of the mechanism of action of a widely used medicine that is already having a daily influence on human health.  This research may open the door for the creation of related drugs that target crippling neurodegenerative disorders via the same pathways.

Keywords: common anesthetic changes the way neurons work


Madeline Frank et al. (2022). Propofol attenuates kinesin-mediated axonal vesicle transport and fusion, Molecular Biology of the CellDOI: 10.1091/mbc.E22-07-0276

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