The neural circuits underlying the distinct endpoints that define general anesthesia remain incompletely understood. It is becoming increasingly evident, however, that distinct pathways in the brain that mediate arousal and pain are involved in various endpoints of general anesthesia. To critically evaluate this growing body of literature, familiarity with modern tools and techniques used to study neural circuits is essential. This Readers’ Toolbox article describes four such techniques: (1) electrical stimulation, (2) local pharmacology, (3) optogenetics, and (4) chemogenetics. Each technique is explained, including the advantages, disadvantages, and other issues that must be considered when interpreting experimental results. Examples are provided of studies that probe mechanisms of anesthesia using each technique. This information will aid researchers and clinicians alike in interpreting the literature and in evaluating the utility of these techniques in their own research programs.

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