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SCIENCE IN THE NEWS DAILY

Clues to How Anesthesia Numbs the Brain

from Science News

Emery Brown knows how to take the sting out of surgery. As an anesthesiologist, he has steered hundreds of patients to pain-free oblivion, allowing doctors to go about their business resetting bones, repairing heart valves or removing tumors. During surgery he continually monitors his patients, keeping tabs on their heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. Recently, he has also been eyeing what happens in their brains.

Rather than going under the knife, some of the people in Brown's care are going into scanners to reveal how the brain responds when people are knocked out. These deep glimpses could answer vexing questions about how people enter the state of unconsciousness known as general anesthesia and what happens in the brain while they are there.

Although it is widely used and remarkably effective, anesthesia's neural mechanisms have long remained mostly mysterious. While every anesthetic drug has its own effect, scientists know little about how the various versions work on the brain to transport patients from normal waking awareness to dreamless nothingness.

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