Inhaled Anesthetics More Likely Than Intravenous Ones to Cause Clumping Of Alzheimer’s-Related Plaques

Issue Date: 
January 29, 2007

Inhaled anesthetics commonly used in surgery are more likely to cause the aggregation of Alzheimer’s disease-related plaques in the brain than intravenous anesthetics, Pitt School of Medicine researchers wrote in an article published in the Jan. 23 issue of Biochemistry.

This is the first report using state-of-the-art nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopic technique to explain the detailed molecular mechanism behind the aggregation of amyloid β (Aβ) peptides, due to various anesthetics.

Aβ plaques are found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Many believe that the uncontrolled clumping of Aβ is the cause of Alzheimer’s disease and that the similar aggregation of peptides and proteins play a role in the development of other neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s.

“Many people know of or have heard of an elderly person who went into surgery where they received anesthesia and when they woke up they had noticeable memory loss or cognitive dysfunction,” said Pravat K. Mandal, assistant professor of psychiatry in Pitt’s medical school and lead author of the study.

Previous studies by Pitt researchers found that the inhaled anesthetics halothane and isoflurane and the intravenous anesthetic propofol encouraged the growth and clumping of Aβ in a test tube experiment.

“Our prior research had shown in molecular models that anesthetics may play a role by causing amyloid peptides to clump together—something that is thought to signal the advancement of Alzheimer’s disease,” Mandal said. “In this study, we set out to see why this was happening and to determine if any one form of anesthesia might be a safer option than another.”

In this study, the researchers used NMR spectroscopy to determine how the inhaled anesthetics halothane and isoflurane and the intravenous anesthetics propofol and thiopental interact with Aβ, influencing the aggregation of Aβ in forms commonly found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

The results were strikingly different between the inhaled and injected anesthetics.

The inhaled halothane and isoflurane had the most potent interaction with Aβ peptides, causing the highest levels of Aβ aggregation. The injected anesthetic propofol only interacted and caused aggregation at high concentrations—interaction was not evident at lower concentrations. The intravenous thiopental did not cause the clustering of Aβ peptides even at high concentrations. Additionally, the molecular details for the interaction of these anesthetics with Aβ peptide were revealed.

Mandal noted that if the same thing occurs in humans, anesthetics could lead to more amyloid plaques, which may lead to earlier memory problems, warranting further studies of anesthetics with Aβ both in laboratory and clinical settings.

The Pitt study was partly funded by grants from the American Parkinson Disease Association and American Health Assistance Foundation.