Anesthesia: A Controlled Coma?

Scientists studying link between coma and anesthesia

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Being in a coma and under anesthesia are surprisingly similar, and scientists are studying their shared characteristics in order to provide safer sleep therapies and understand the comatose brain.

Scientists are studying the common characteristics and mechanisms that link anesthesia and coma. Contrary to belief, the body is not merely asleep when under anesthesia, it is in an induced and controllable comatose state.

Understanding the processes that connect the two states may help in the development of sleep aids, safer methods of anesthesia, and more importantly, ways to help patients recover from comas.

Doctors at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center have pinpointed two important brain circuit loops that operate in both conditions: one that inhibits certain actions and keeps the body from physically "acting out" while dreaming. The second is a response that releases the hold set by the first loop. Sleep aids such as Ambien have this effect.

This sequence of events in the brain is common while the body is asleep, under anesthesia and in a coma. Cracking the code on how the brain recovers after anesthesia could lead to breakthroughs in treating coma patients who experience multiple types of brain damage.

The road between losing consciousness and regaining consciousness is still shrouded in mystery, but this study provides a ray of hope for sleep therapy and emergence from coma.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 29, 2010
Last Updated:
December 30, 2010