A Neurochemical Perspective on States of Consciousness

  • Christopher J. Watson
  • Helen A. Baghdoyan
  • Ralph Lydic
Part of the Contemporary Clinical Neuroscience book series (CCNE)


The foundation of anesthesia rests upon discoveries made by chemists. This is illustrated by Joseph Preistly’s and Humphrey Davy’s research on nitrous oxide; Paracelsus’ work with ether; the studies of chemists Eugène Soubeiran, Justus von Liebig, Samual Gutherie, and Jean-Baptiste Dumas with chloroform; and more recently Paul Janssen’s development of fentanyl. Anesthetics are synthetic compounds that exert effects on one or more endogenous neurochemical systems to produce a behavioral state characterized by traits that include unconsciousness, amnesia, and analgesia. The mechanisms by which anesthetics cause the loss of consciousness (hypnosis) are not known, but there is compelling evidence that anesthetics alter the endogenous neurochemical systems that regulate sleep and wakefulness (Keifer et al. 1994; Lydic 1996; Vanini et al. 2008). Advances in analytical chemistry now make it possible to begin a systematic characterization of the endogenous molecules that regulate states of consciousness such as sleep and anesthesia. This chapter provides a brief overview of sleep neurobiology and its unique relevance for efforts to understand the neurochemical mechanisms of anesthesia. Readers are referred elsewhere for detailed reviews on sleep (Lydic and Biebuyck 1994; España and Scammell 2004; Steriade and McCarley 2005; Datta and MacLean 2007; McCarley 2007; Monti, Pandi-Perumal, and Sinton 2008).


Sleep anesthesia neurochemistry acetylcholine GABA adenosine neuropeptide 


Disclosure Statement

This work supported by National Institutes of Health grants: HL40881, MH45361, HL57120, HL65272, and the Department of Anesthesiology. We thank Mary A. Norat, Giancarlo Vanini, and Sarah L. Watson for critical comments on this chapter. This work was not an industry-supported study, and the authors have no financial conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Humana Press, a part of Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher J. Watson
    • 1
  • Helen A. Baghdoyan
    • 1
  • Ralph Lydic
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnesthesiologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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