Since the early civilizations, anaesthesia for surgical operation has been associated with a state of unconsciousness. Various, in fact, have been the “potions” used to suppress consciousness for surgical intervention over the centuries. Ether was discovered independently by Valerius Cordus (1515-1544), by Paracelsus (1493-1541), and possibly earlier by Lullius. Paracelsus having administered ether to chickens notes: “... and they fall asleep from it for a while but awaken later without harm ... it quiets all suffering without any harm, and relieves all pain, and quences all fevers, and prevents complications in all illnesses”. Human beings had to wait (and suffer) for a few centuries after the discovery of ether before this substance was introduced in clinical anaesthesia by William Morton in 1846. Even nowadays, anaesthesia is perceived by the layman as a state of unconsciousness. In the 150 years since Morton’s demonstration, the practice of anaesthesia has developed beyond his wildest dreams. This development has come from the foresight and diligence of countless open-minded men and women whose efforts and researches have helped human beings to relieve their sufferings and the practice of surgery to advance. They have developed many theories on how anaesthetics work. They have also been helped by the great developments in basic sciences like molecular biology, neurophysiology and cellular electrophysiology.


Sodium Channel General Anaesthetic Volatile Anaesthetic Anaesthetic Action Squid Giant Axon 
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© Springer-Verlag Italia 1997

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  • N. G. Volpe

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