Anaethesia, consciousness & hydrophobic pockets

Stuart Hameroff:

Studies made in recent decades indicate that anaesthetic gases act on hydrophobic regions of proteins. Studies include Wulf & Featherstone (1957), Franks and Lieb (1982-94) and Halsey (1989). The gases act on hydrophobic property with Van der Waals forces providing solubility for the gases. The forces act between anaesthetic molecules and non-polar amino acids.

The post-synaptic receptors for neurotransmitters such GABA, serotonin and acetylcholine are the areas most susceptible to anaesthetics, and they allow both excitatory and inhibitory functions to be effected. However, anaesthetics appear to effect a wide range of proteins including receptors, ion channels, second messengers and cytosleletal proteins including microtubules.

The mode of operation of anaesthetics is taken to be suggestive of the involvement of quantum activity in consciousness. Proposals for quantum consciousness include Beck & Eccles, who suggested there could be probabilistic behaviour in neurotransmitter vesicles. Stapp links pre-synaptic calcium inflow to the possible collapse of the wave function.

Protein function depends on the shape and conformation of the protein. Proteins are created out of chains of amino-acids. The folding of protein depends on the attractions and repulsions of amino-acid side groups. Computer simulation or prediction of the folding of protein has proved difficult, with the suggestion of the possible need for quantum computing.

The main driving force in proteins are non-polar amino acids, repelled by water and attracted by Van der Waals forces. They are non-polar but polarisable. The action of protein is in the range of 10 picoseconds to one nanosecond. Anaesthetics may prevent conformational switching in protein. They may inhibit electron mobility, which may be required for protein dynamics.


(1) Beck F, Eccles J.C. (1982), Quantum aspects of brain activity and the role of consciousness: Proceeding of the National Academy of Science: USA 89 (23) 11357-11361

(2) Franks N.P. and Lieb W.R. (1984), Do general anaesthetics act by competitive binding to specific receptors: Nature 310, 599-601

(3) Halsey M.J. (1989) Molecular mechanism of anaesthetics: General Anaesthesia – Fifth Edition

(4) Wulf R.J, Feath

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