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Previous studies have provided evidence that clinical levels of propofol alter the functions of voltage-dependent sodium channels, thereby inhibiting synaptic release of glutamate. However, most of these experiments were conducted in the presence of sodium-channel activators, which alter channel inactivation. This study electrophysiologically characterized the interactions of propofol with unmodified sodium channels.Sodium currents were measured using whole-cell patch-clamp recordings of rat brain IIa sodium channels expressed in a stably transfected Chinese hamster ovary cell line. Standard electrophysiologic protocols were used to record sodium currents in the presence or absence of externally applied propofol.Propofol, at concentrations achieved clinically in the brain, significantly altered sodium channel currents by two mechanisms: a voltage-independent block of peak currents and a concentration-dependent shift in steady-state inactivation to hyperpolarized potentials, leading to a voltage dependence of current suppression. The two effects combined to give an apparent concentration yielding a half-maximal inhibitory effect of 10 [micro sign]M near the threshold potential of action potential firing (about -60 mV). Propofol inhibition was also use-dependent, causing a further block of sodium currents at these anesthetic concentrations.In these experiments with pharmacologically unaltered sodium channels, propofol inhibition of currents occurred at concentrations about eight-fold above clinical plasma levels and thus at brain concentrations reached during clinical anesthesia. Therefore, the results indicate a possible role for sodium-channel suppression in propofol anesthesia.