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Commonly used anaesthetic alters mouse brains

March 13, 2007

Exposure to widely used anaesthetic drugs increases production of a brain protein thought to cause Alzheimer's disease, a study of mice has shown. The research feeds concern that general anaesthesia may be linked to dementia in humans.

Inhaled doses of halothane, one of a class of drugs called volatile anaesthetics, increase the amount of a protein called amyloid beta in mouse brains, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia have found.

Some 60 million people worldwide are given volatile anaesthetics each year. The drugs are known to cause 'post-operative cognitive decline' in many cases, which can last for days, weeks or years.

If these drugs boost production of amyloid beta, they may also be linked to long-term dementias such as Alzheimer's. The brains of Alzheimer's patients contain high levels of amyloid beta, although the molecule's links with disease are still unknown.

Read full story in Nature.