The dose-dependent effects of anesthetics on brain functional connectivity are incompletely understood. Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rsfMRI) is widely used to assess the functional connectivity in humans and animals. Propofol is an anesthetic agent with desirable characteristics for functional neuroimaging in animals but its dose-dependent effects on rsfMRI functional connectivity have not been determined. Here we tested the hypothesis that brain functional connectivity undergoes specific changes in distinct neural networks at anesthetic depths associated with loss of consciousness. We acquired spontaneous blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signals simultaneously with electroencephalographic (EEG) signals from rats under steady-state, intravenously administered propofol at increasing doses from light sedation to deep anesthesia (20, 40, 60, 80, and 100 mg/kg/h IV). Power spectra and burst suppression ratio were calculated from the EEG to verify anesthetic depth. Functional connectivity was determined from the whole brain correlation of BOLD data in regions of interest followed by a segmentation of the correlation maps into anatomically defined regional connectivity. We found that propofol produced multiphasic, dose dependent changes in functional connectivity of various cortical and subcortical networks. Cluster analysis predicted segregation of connectivity into two cortical and two subcortical clusters. In one cortical cluster (somatosensory and parietal), the early reduction in connectivity was followed by transient reversal; in the other cluster (sensory, motor and cingulate/retrosplenial), this rebound was absent. The connectivity of the subcortical cluster (brainstem, hippocampal and caudate) was strongly reduced, whereas that of another (hypothalamus, medial thalamus and n. basalis) did not. Subcortical connectivity increased again in deep anesthesia associated with EEG burst suppression. Regional correlation analysis confirmed the breakdown of connectivity within and between specific cortical and subcortical networks with deepening propofol anesthesia. Cortical connectivity was suppressed before subcortical connectivity at a critical propofol dose associated with loss of consciousness.
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