Isoflurane is a widely used anesthetic which safely and reversibly induces deep coma and associated burst suppression (BS) electroencephalographic patterns. Here we investigate possible underlying causes for the state of cortical hyperexcitability which was recently shown to be one of the characteristics of BS. Our hypothesis was that cortical inhibition is diminished during isoflurane-induced BS. Experiments were performed in vivo using intracellular recordings of cortical neurons to assess their responsiveness to stimulations of connected thalamic nuclei. We demonstrate that during BS EPSPs were diminished by 44%, whereas inhibitory potentials were completely suppressed. This finding was supported by additional results indicating that a decrease in neuronal input resistance normally found during inhibitory responses under low isoflurane conditions was abolished in the BS condition. Moreover, removal of inhibition occasionally revealed excitatory components which were absent during recordings before the induction of BS. We also show that the absence of inhibition during BS is not caused by a blockage of GABA receptors, since iontophoretically applied GABA shows receptor availability. Moreover, the concentration of extracellular chloride was increased during BS, as would be expected after reduced flow of chloride through GABA(A) receptors. Also inhibitory responses were reinstated by selective blockage of glial glutamate transporters with dihydrokainate. These results suggest that the lack of inhibition during BS is caused by reduced excitation, probably resulting from increased glial uptake of glutamate stimulated by isoflurane, which creates a diminished activation of cortical interneurons. Thus cortical hyperexcitability during BS is favored by suppressed inhibition.
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