No Evidence of Memory Function during Anesthesia with Propofol or Isoflurane with Close Control of Hypnotic State

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The authors previously demonstrated memory function during apparently adequate general anesthesia in trauma patients. Hypnotic state fluctuations, stress, and variable amnesic qualities of commonly used anesthetics could account for this effect.


The authors replicated the trauma investigation in 90 elective surgical patients to enable anesthetic titration to a bispectral index value of 50–55 during auditory presentation of word stimuli. Patients were randomly assigned to maintenance with propofol (n = 48) or isoflurane (n = 42). Before surgery, state anxiety and trait anxiety were assessed using self-report measures. Postoperative memory assessment relied on the process dissociation procedure using a word stem completion task.


There were no differences between groups for relevant demographic, preoperative, or supplemental drug variables. Ninety-eight percent of words were presented within a bispectral index range of 40–60, with values averaging 48.8 (SD = 5.7) during word presentation. Neither the process dissociation procedure nor standard measures of conscious recall and recognition memory showed evidence of explicit or implicit memory. Preoperative stress levels did not correlate with postoperative memory test scores in either study group.


In contrast to the results of their previous study, the authors found no evidence of memory function with close control of hypnotic state. This suggests that hypnotic state fluctuations are important to memory activation under anesthesia. Other variables may contribute to preserved memory function as well. Propofol and isoflurane block memory equally well during adequate anesthesia.

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