The general anesthetic propofol induces frontal alpha rhythm in the cerebral cortex at a dose sufficient to induce loss of consciousness. The authors hypothesized that propofol-induced facilitation of unitary inhibitory postsynaptic currents would result in firing synchrony among postsynaptic pyramidal neurons that receive inhibition from the same presynaptic inhibitory fast-spiking neurons.


Multiple whole cell patch clamp recordings were performed from one fast-spiking neuron and two or three pyramidal neurons with at least two inhibitory connections in rat insular cortical slices. The authors examined how inhibitory inputs from a presynaptic fast-spiking neuron modulate the timing of spontaneous repetitive spike firing among pyramidal neurons before and during 10 μM propofol application.


Responding to activation of a fast-spiking neuron with 150-ms intervals, pyramidal cell pairs that received common inhibitory inputs from the presynaptic fast-spiking neuron showed propofol-dependent decreases in average distance from the line of identity, which evaluates the coefficient of variation in spike timing among pyramidal neurons: average distance from the line of identity just after the first activation of fast-spiking neuron was 29.2 ± 24.1 (mean ± SD, absolute value) in control and 19.7 ± 19.2 during propofol application (P < 0.001). Propofol did not change average distance from the line of identity without activating fast-spiking neurons and in pyramidal neuron pairs without common inhibitory inputs from presynaptic fast-spiking neurons. The synchronization index, which reflects the degree of spike synchronization among pyramidal neurons, was increased by propofol from 1.4 ± 0.5 to 2.3 ± 1.5 (absolute value, P = 0.004) and from 1.5 ± 0.5 to 2.2 ± 1.0 (P = 0.030) when a presynaptic fast-spiking neuron was activated at 6.7 and 10 Hz, respectively, but not at 1, 4, and 13.3 Hz.


These results suggest that propofol facilitates pyramidal neuron firing synchrony by enhancing inhibitory inputs from fast-spiking neurons. This synchrony of pyramidal neurons may contribute to the alpha rhythm associated with propofol-induced loss of consciousness.

Editor’s Perspective
What We Already Know about This Topic
  • Propofol-induced loss of consciousness correlates with the appearance of a synchronized alpha rhythm on the frontal cortical electroencephalogram

  • Well-coordinated thalamocortical alpha oscillation induced by propofol exposure is the prevailing mechanistic view to explain this phenomenon

  • The role of local cortical circuits in propofol-induced synchronized neuronal activity is incompletely understood

What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • Multiple whole cell patch clamp recordings in rat cortical slices reveal that propofol facilitates firing synchrony among pyramidal neurons

  • Propofol-induced activation of presynaptic fast-spiking interneurons was necessary to achieve firing synchrony of postsynaptic pyramidal neurons

  • These observations suggest that propofol facilitates pyramidal neuron firing synchrony in the cerebral cortex by enhancing inhibitory inputs from fast-spiking interneurons

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