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Anaesthetic 'linked to Alzheimer's'

13th February 2007

A widely used anaesthetic may cause Alzheimer's-like changes in the brain, according to a new study.

The anaesthetic isoflurane is thought to lead to the production of amyloid-beta proteins, causing cells to die in a process known as apoptosis which often leads to the onset of Alzheimer's.

Writing in the Journal of Neuroscience, a team led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) suggested isoflurane could magnify this process.

"Our studies have shown that isoflurane may induce a vicious cycle of apoptosis, amyloid-beta generation and further rounds of apoptosis leading to cell death," said lead author Zhongcong Xie from the MGH Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease.

"If future studies support these findings, they suggest that caution be used in choosing this anesthetic for elderly patients, who already are at increased risk for Alzheimer's and for postoperative cognitive dysfunction."

Other studies have suggested that general anaesthetics could increase the risk of developing Alzheimer's and postoperative patients often experience a form of dementia.