Isoflurane impairs odour discrimination learning in rats: Differential effects on short- and long-term memory

R. A. Pearce*, P. Duscher, K. Van Dyke, M. Lee, A. C. Andrei, M. Perouansky

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

4 Scopus citations


Background: Anaesthetics suppress the formation of lasting memories at concentrations that do not suppress perception, but it is unclear which elements of the complex cascade leading from a conscious experience to a lasting memory trace are disrupted. Experiments in conscious humans suggest that subhypnotic concentrations of anaesthetics impair consolidation or maintenance rather than acquisition of a representation (long-term more than short-term memory). We sought to test whether these agents similarly impair learning in rats. Methods: We used operant conditioning in rats to examine the effect of isoflurane on acquisition compared with long-term (24 h) memory of non-aversive olfactory memories using two different odour discrimination tasks. Rats learned the 'valences' of odour pairs presented either separately (task A) or simultaneously (task B), under control conditions and under isoflurane inhalation. In a separate set of experiments, we tested the ability of the animals to recall a learning set that had been acquired 24 h previously. Results: Under 0.4 isoflurane inhalation, the average number of trials required to reach criterion performance (18 correct responses in 20 successive trials) increased from 21.9 to 43.5 (P<0.05) and 24.2 to 54.4 (P<0.05) for tasks A and B, respectively. Under 0.3 isoflurane inhalation, only task B was impaired (from 24.2 to 31.5 trials, P<0.05). Recall at 24 h was dose-dependently impaired or prevented by isoflurane for both tasks. Conclusions: : Isoflurane interfered with long-term memory of odour valence without preventing its acquisition. This paradigm may serve as a non-aversive animal model of conscious amnesia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)630-637
Number of pages8
JournalBritish journal of anaesthesia
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2012


  • amnesia, anterograde
  • anaesthetics, general
  • anaesthetics, inhalation
  • memory, long term
  • memory, short term

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Isoflurane impairs odour discrimination learning in rats: Differential effects on short- and long-term memory'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this