November 25, 2008

Anesthetic induces Alzheimer’s changes

A commonly used anesthetic can produce changes associated with Alzheimer's disease in the brains of living mammals, U.S. researchers said.

Massachusetts General Hospital investigators in Boston show how administration of the gas isoflurane can lead to generation of the toxic amyloid-beta protein -- associated with Alzheimer's disease -- in the brains of mice.

These are the first results indicating that isoflurane can set off a time-dependent cascade inducing cell death and enhanced levels of the Alzheimer's-associated proteins, lead author Dr. Zhongcong Xie of the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease said in a statement.

This work needs to be confirmed in human studies, but it's looking like isoflurane may not be the best anesthesia to use for patients who already have higher A-beta levels, such as the elderly and Alzheimer's patients.

Alzheimer's disease is characterized by deposition of A-beta plaques within the brain.

This study cannot tell us about the long-term effects of isoflurane administration; that's something we will examine in future investigations, Xie said.

The findings are published in the Annals of Neurology.