Emery Brown

Emery Brown, anesthesiologist, Professor of Computational Neuroscience at MIT, and Co-Director of the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, unveils the surprising truth about exactly what happens to your brain under anesthesia and what it suggests for understanding the brain and improving treatment.

“[With respect to anesthesia] sleep is not the state you’re going in, nor would it be the state in which someone could perform an operation on you.”
— Emery Brown


Computational neuroscientist and anesthesiologist Emery Brown explores one of medicine’s big mysteries—exactly what happens to your brain under anesthesia. Emery believes the answers to this question could have profound implications, addressing everything from the nature of consciousness to improving the specificity of anesthetic drugs, and leading to new treatments for chronic pain, depression, and insomnia. Emery practices anesthesiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and holds a joint appointment as Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and Professor of Medical Engineering and Computational Neuroscience at MIT. He also co-directs the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program. When not studying neural signals of others under the influence of anesthesia, Emery enjoys challenging his own brain by speaking several Romance languages.

What do you do to lift your spirits?
I look at pictures of my family, and remind myself how good life is. I also start working on a new problem… and begin writing out how to attack it in detail by designing new algorithms or designing new experiments.

If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would you meet?
My great-grandfather, Stephen Brown. He was born a slave in Florida but later became a major landowner and a highly successful gentleman farmer. He succeeded at a time when all the odds were completely stacked against him.


Making New Waves in Anesthesia
Q&A with Emery on the TEDMED blog

Decoding the Void
Abumrad J. Radiolab, Season 12, Episode 4. 

Emery Brown: Anesthesia - A Neuroscience Phenomenon
National Institute of Mental Health. 2010. (video)

General Anesthesia - Emery Brown
Serious Science. 2014. (video)

Video: The Mysteries of Anesthesia
MGH’s Emery Brown explains how anesthesia helps us understand neuroscience.
Massachusetts General Hospital. Proto: Dispatches from the frontiers of medicine. 2014.

Induction Ceremony Lecture: The Dynamics of the Unconscious under General Anesthesia
National Academy of Science 152nd Meeting. 2015.

The aging brain and anesthesia
Brown EN, Purdon PL. Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2013;26:414-9.

General anesthesia, sleep, and coma
Brown EN, Lydic R, Schiff ND. N Engl J Med. 2010;363:2638-50.


General anesthesia and altered states of arousal: a systems neuroscience analysis
Brown EN, Purdon PL, Van Dort CJ. 2011. Annu Rev Neurosci. 34:601-28.

Dextroamphetamine (but not Atomoxetine) induces reanimation from general anesthesia: implications for the roles of dopamine and norepinephrine in active emergence.
Kenny JD, Taylor N, Brown EN, Solt K. PLOS One. 2015;10:e0131914. 

Ageing delays emergence from general anaesthesia in rats by increasing anaesthetic sensitivity in the brain
Brown, EN, et al. British Journal of Anaesthesia. 2015;115:i58-i65. 
The pediatric brain: age-dependent effects of sevoflurane on frontal EEG power and coherence
Brown, EN, et al. British Journal of Anaesthesia. 2015;115:i66-i76.
Modeling the dynamical effects of anesthesia on brain circuits
Ching S, Brown EN. Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2014;25:116-22.
Tracking brain states under general anesthesia by using global coherence analysis
Cimenser A, Purdon PL, Pierce ET, Walsh JL, Salazar-Gomez AF, et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2011;108:8832-7.
Rapid fragmentation of neuronal networks at the onset of propofol-induced unconsciousness
Lewis LD, Weiner VS, Mukamel EA, Donoghue JA, Eskandar EN, et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2012;109:E3377-86.
Electroencephalogram signatures of loss and recovery of consciousness from propofol
Purdon PL, Pierce ET, Mukamel EA, Prerau MJ, Walsh JL, et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2013;110:E1142-51.

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Anesthesia Neuroscientist