Differential effects of isoflurane and propofol on upper airway dilator muscle activity and breathing

Matthias Eikermann, Atul Malhotra, Philipp Fassbender, Sebastian Zaremba, Amy S. Jordan, Shiva Gautam, David P. White, Nancy L. Chamberlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Anesthesia impairs upper airway integrity, but recent data suggest that low doses of some anesthetics increase upper airway dilator muscle activity, an apparent paradox. The authors sought to understand which anesthetics increase or decrease upper airway dilator muscle activity and to study the mechanisms mediating the effect. METHODS: The authors recorded genioglossus electromyogram, breathing, arterial blood pressure, and expiratory carbon dioxide in 58 spontaneously breathing rats at an estimated ED50 (median effective dose) of isoflurane or propofol. The authors further evaluated the dose-response relations of isoflurane under different study conditions: (1) normalization of mean arterial pressure, or end-expiratory carbon dioxide; (2) bilateral lesion of the Kölliker-Fuse nucleus; and (3) vagotomy. To evaluate whether the markedly lower inspiratory genioglossus activity during propofol could be recovered by increasing flow rate, a measure of respiratory drive, the authors performed an additional set of experiments during hypoxia or hypercapnia. RESULTS: In vagally intact rats, tonic and phasic genioglossus activity were markedly higher with isoflurane compared with propofol. Both anesthetics abolished the genioglossus negative pressure reflex. Inspiratory flow rate and anesthetic agent predicted independently phasic genioglossus activity. Isoflurane dose-dependently decreased tonic and increased phasic genioglossus activity, and increased flow rate, and its increasing effects were abolished after vagotomy. Impairment of phasic genioglossus activity during propofol anesthesia was reversed during evoked increase in respiratory drive. CONCLUSION: Isoflurane compared with propofol anesthesia yields higher tonic and phasic genioglossus muscle activity. The level of respiratory depression rather than the level of effective anesthesia correlates closely with the airway dilator muscle function during anesthesia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)897-906
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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