The action sites of propofol in the normal human brain revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging

Hui Zhang, Wei Wang, Zhijing Zhao, Yali Ge, Jinsong Zhang, Daihua Yu, Wei Chai, Shengxi Wu, Lixian Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Propofol has been used for many years but its functional target in the intact brain remains unclear. In the present study, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate blood oxygen level dependence signal changes in the normal human brain during propofol anesthesia and explored the possible action targets of propofol. Ten healthy subjects were enrolled in two experimental sessions. In session 1, the Observer's Assessment of Alertness/Sedation Scale was performed to evaluate asleep to awake/alert status. In session 2, images with blood oxygen level dependence contrast were obtained with echo-planar imaging on a 1.5-T Philips Gyroscan Magnetic Resonance System and analyzed. In both sessions, subjects were intravenously administered with saline (for 3 min) and then propofol (for 1.5 min) and saline again (for 10.5 min) with a constant speed infusion pump. Observer's Assessment of Alertness/Sedation Scale scoring showed that the subjects experienced conscious-sedative-unconscious-analepsia, which correlated well with the signal decreases in the anesthesia states. Propofol induced significant signal decreases in hypothalamus (18.2% ± 3.6%), frontal lobe (68.5% ± 11.2%), and temporal lobe (34.7% ± 6.1%). Additionally, the signals at these three sites were fulminant and changed synchronously. While in the thalamus, the signal decrease was observed in 5 of 10 of the subjects and the magnitude of decrease was 3.9% ± 1.6%. These results suggest that there is most significant inhibition in hypothalamus, frontal lobe, and temporal in propofol anesthesia and moderate inhibition in thalamus. These brain regions might be the targets of propofol anesthesia in human brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1985-1990
Number of pages6
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Anesthesia
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Human brain
  • Inhibition
  • Propofol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Anatomy
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Histology


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