Alcohol and Anesthetic Actions: Are They Mediated by Lipid or Protein?

  • Floyd E. Bloom


Attempts to explain the effects of ethanol and other alcohols on the central nervous system have historically emphasized similarities between this class of drug and general anesthetics. Thus, a recent textbook of pharmacology summarizes the matter as “Despite popular belief in its stimulant properties, ethanol is entirely depressant in its actions on neurones of the central nervous system. In fact, its actions are qualitatively similar to those of a general anesthetic” (Bowman and Rand, 1980). Thus, when considered under the Meyer-Overton “rule,” the pharmacological potency of an alcohol, like some general anesthetics, is proportional to its lipophilicity, and lipophilicity is in turn directly related to the chain length and other physicochemical properties of the alcohol. Furthermore, in contrast to almost all other classes of central nervous system (CNS) drugs, neither for alcohols nor general anesthetics has it been possible to identify any membrane receptor responsible for ethanol actions on release, response to or metabolism of any specific neurotransmitters. Although no consensus mechanisms have yet emerged for how these physicochemical properties of alcohols and anesthetics actually“explain” their effects on cellular and organismic function, the inference has been that the primary sites of action of these substances takes place within the lipid matrix of the plasma membranes.


General Anesthetic Anesthetic Action Systemic Ethanol Ethanol Effect Acetaldehyde Oxidation 
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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1991

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  • Floyd E. Bloom

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