The Conscious Brain: The Physiology & Pharmacology of Pain & Anaesthesia module (BS42025)

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Semester 2

Imagine undergoing major surgery without a general anaesthetic. How do these drugs, within seconds of injection, render us unconscious? How does morphine produce rapid relief from pain, but in some patients may hijack our reward circuitry leading to addiction? Rapid advances are being made in our understanding of how such drugs influence specific neural circuits to produce their dramatic effects on our behaviour. This module will promote an understanding of the mode of action of analgesic and general anaesthetic drugs at an advanced level, specifically it will:

(i) relate the complex state of general anaesthesia (sedation, analgesia, cognitive impairment, unconsciousness) to the modulation of specific transmitter-gated ion channels expressed in particular neural circuits

(ii) describe how neurosteroids, synthesised in the brain and spinal cord, act as endogenous analgesics, sedatives anxiolytics

(iii) investigate how local anaesthetics and morphine act on specific, but distinct targets to produce their effects on the “pain pathway”.

(iv) identify emerging targets for new analgesic agents.

(v) Finally, prior to, during and after surgery the patient will be managed by multiple drugs. To illustrate the complexities of modern anaesthesia, involving such polypharmacy, a workshop will investigate drug actions on a simulated anaesthetized patient.