Increasing evidence supports a role for brain reward circuitry in modulating arousal along with emergence from anesthesia. Emergence remains an important frontier for investigation, since no drug exists in clinical practice to initiate rapid and smooth emergence. This review discusses clinical and preclinical evidence indicating a role for two brain regions classically considered integral components of the mesolimbic brain reward circuitry, the ventral tegmental area and the nucleus accumbens, in emergence from propofol and volatile anesthesia. Then there is a description of modern systems neuroscience approaches to neural circuit investigations that will help span the large gap between preclinical and clinical investigation with the shared aim of developing therapies to promote rapid emergence without agitation or delirium. This article proposes that neuroscientists include models of whole-brain network activity in future studies to inform the translational value of preclinical investigations and foster productive dialogues with clinician anesthesiologists.

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