What happens to your brain under general anesthesia? EEG recordings can measure brain dynamics of patients under general anesthesia and may inform the development of safer and more specific anesthetics.
Dr. Emery Brown explains that under general anesthesia your brain is not turned off but is very dynamic. Electrical oscillations in the brain can be recorded using an electroencephalogram (EEG). Brown shows how oscillations induced by anesthesia interfere with normal communication between different regions of the brain. By following oscillations of different frequencies, it is possible to monitor and adjust a patient’s level of unconsciousness under anesthesia.
All general anesthetics act in the brain stem region to induce slow brain oscillations. Brown shares EEG spectrograms that clearly show that the brain response to anesthesia varies with age. Younger brains show strong oscillations while those of older brains show weaker oscillations. Interestingly, not all brains “age” at the same rate. By using EEG spectrogram to visualize brain dynamics, anesthesiologists can optimize drug dosage for individual patients. Brown closes his talk by presenting recent research suggesting that it may be possible to “turn the brain back on” after general anesthesia as a way to speed patient recovery.
Dr. Emery Brown is an expert in understanding the neurophysiological basis for how general anesthesia works and passionate about his desire to pass this understanding on to others. Recent technological advances allow large amounts of data to be recorded from the brain. Brown’s lab is developing statistical tools and algorithms to analyze and interpret this data with the goal of more effectively monitoring the depth of brain anesthesia and developing safer and more specific anesthetic drugs.
Brown is the Warren M. Zapol Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and a practicing anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. He is also Edward Hood Taplin Professor of Medical Engineering and of Computational Neuroscience at MIT and an Investigator of the Picower Center for Learning and Memory at MIT. Brown received his BA in mathematics, his PhD in statistics, and his MD, all from Harvard University.
Brown has received numerous honors and awards over the course of his career. He is one of only a handful of scientists to be elected to all three branches of the National Academies: Science, Engineering and Medicine. Recently, his pioneering research was recognized with the Dickson Prize for Science in 2018.
Learn more about Dr. Brown’s research here: