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Every year over 200 million are anesthetized while undergoing surgery. A concern has been if the widely used anesthetic desflurane contributes to increased production of amyloid-beta protein (an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers Bin Zhang, Yuanlin Dong, Rudolph Tanzi, Zhongcong Xie, Genetics and Aging Research Unit, MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease, Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Charlestown, MA, used cell culture experiments to examined the possibility of anesthetic contributing to Alzheimer’s disease by subjecting human brain cells to 12% desflurane for six hours, which mimics surgery condition. No changes in cell death or production of amyloid-beta protein were observed.

However, when 12% desflurane was combined with low oxygen levels (18%) researchers observed an increase of amyloid beta protein. Low levels of oxygen alone (hypoxia) did not show any cellular changes.