Ndufs4 knockout (KO) mice are defective in mitochondrial complex I function and hypersensitive to inhibition of spinal cord–mediated response to noxious stimuli by volatile anesthetics. It was hypothesized that, compared to wild-type, synaptic or intrinsic neuronal function is hypersensitive to isoflurane in spinal cord slices from knockout mice.

Neurons from slices of the vestibular nucleus, central medial thalamus, and spinal cord from wild-type and the global Ndufs4 knockout were patch clamped. Unstimulated synaptic and intrinsic neuronal characteristics were measured in response to isoflurane. Norfluoxetine was used to block TREK channel conductance. Cholinergic cells were labeled with tdTomato.


All values are reported as means and 95% CIs. Spontaneous synaptic activities were not different between the mutant and control. Isoflurane (0.6%; 0.25 mM; Ndufs4[KO] EC95) increased the holding current in knockout (ΔHolding current, 126 pA [95% CI, 99 to 152 pA]; ΔHolding current P < 0.001; n = 21) but not wild-type (ΔHolding current, 2 7 pA [95% CI, 9 to 47 pA]; ΔHolding current, P = 0.030; n = 25) spinal cord slices. Knockout and wild-type ΔHolding currents were significantly different (P < 0.001). Changes comparable to those in the knockout were seen in the wild type only in 1.8% (0.74 mM) isoflurane (ΔHolding current, 72 pA [95% CI, 43 to 97 pA]; ΔHolding current, P < 0.001; n = 13), the control EC95. Blockade of action potentials indicated that the increased holding current in the knockout was not dependent on synaptic input (ΔHolding current, 154 pA [95% CI, 99 to 232 pA]; ΔHolding current, P = 0.506 compared to knockout without blockade; n = 6). Noncholinergic neurons mediated the increase in holding current sensitivity in Ndufs4 knockout. The increased currents were blocked by norfluoxetine.


Isoflurane increased an outwardly rectifying potassium current in ventral horn neurons of the Ndufs4(KO) mouse at a concentration much lower than in controls. Noncholinergic neurons in the spinal cord ventral horn mediated the effect. Presynaptic functions in Ndufs4(KO) slices were not hypersensitive to isoflurane. These data link anesthetic sensitivity, mitochondrial function, and postsynaptic channel activity.

Editor’s Perspective
What We Already Know about This Topic
  • Volatile anesthetics–induced inhibition of motor response to painful stimuli is primarily mediated via the neural circuitry of the ventral spinal cord
  • Disrupting mitochondrial complex I results in profound hypersensitivity to volatile anesthetics
  • The role of mitochondrial complex I in mediating volatile anesthetic action in the spinal cord is incompletely understood
What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • In transgenic mice lacking a subunit of mitochondrial complex I, isoflurane increased an outwardly rectifying potassium current in the ventral horn of the spinal cord at a concentration much lower than in wild-type controls
  • The effects were mediated by noncholinergic neurons and were independent of presynaptic functions
  • These observations provide us with a functional link between sensitivity to volatile anesthetics, mitochondrial function, and postsynaptic potassium channel activity