Isoflurane inhibition of endocytosis is an anesthetic mechanism of action

Sangwook Jung, Pavel I. Zimin, Christian B. Woods, Ernst Bernhard Kayser, Dominik Haddad, Colleen R. Reczek, Ken Nakamura, Jan Marino Ramirez, Margaret M. Sedensky, Philip G. Morgan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The mechanisms of volatile anesthetic action remain among the most perplexing mysteries of medicine. Across phylogeny, volatile anesthetics selectively inhibit mitochondrial complex I, and they also depress presynaptic excitatory signaling. To explore how these effects are linked, we studied isoflurane effects on presynaptic vesicle cycling and ATP levels in hippocampal cultured neurons from wild-type and complex I mutant (Ndufs4(KO)) mice. To bypass complex I, we measured isoflurane effects on anesthetic sensitivity in mice expressing NADH dehydrogenase (NDi1). Endocytosis in physiologic concentrations of glucose was delayed by effective behavioral concentrations of isoflurane in both wild-type (τ [unexposed] 44.8 ± 24.2 s; τ [exposed] 116.1 ± 28.1 s; p < 0.01) and Ndufs4(KO) cultures (τ [unexposed] 67.6 ± 16.0 s; τ [exposed] 128.4 ± 42.9 s; p = 0.028). Increasing glucose, to enhance glycolysis and increase ATP production, led to maintenance of both ATP levels and endocytosis (τ [unexposed] 28.0 ± 14.4; τ [exposed] 38.2 ± 5.7; reducing glucose worsened ATP levels and depressed endocytosis (τ [unexposed] 85.4 ± 69.3; τ [exposed] > 1,000; p < 0.001). The block in recycling occurred at the level of reuptake of synaptic vesicles into the presynaptic cell. Expression of NDi1 in wild-type mice caused behavioral resistance to isoflurane for tail clamp response (EC50 Ndi1(−) 1.27% ± 0.14%; Ndi1(+) 1.55% ± 0.13%) and halothane (EC50 Ndi1(−) 1.20% ± 0.11%; Ndi1(+) 1.46% ± 0.10%); expression of NDi1 in neurons improved hippocampal function, alleviated inhibition of presynaptic recycling, and increased ATP levels during isoflurane exposure. The clear alignment of cell culture data to in vivo phenotypes of both isoflurane-sensitive and -resistant mice indicates that inhibition of mitochondrial complex I is a primary mechanism of action of volatile anesthetics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3016-3032.e3
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 25 2022


  • ATP
  • complex I
  • endocytosis
  • exocytosis
  • mitochondria
  • mouse
  • presynapse
  • volatile anesthetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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