Modulation of thalamocortical (TC) relay neuron function has been implicated in the sedative and hypnotic effects of general anaesthetics. Inhibition of TC neurons is mediated predominantly by a combination of phasic and tonic inhibition, together with a recently described ‘spillover’ mode of inhibition, generated by the dynamic recruitment of extrasynaptic ?-aminobutyric acid
(GABA)A receptors (GABAARs). Previous studies demonstrated that the intravenous anaesthetic etomidate enhances tonic and phasic inhibition in TC relay neurons, but it is not known how etomidate may influence spillover inhibition. Moreover, it is unclear how etomidate influences the excitability of TC neurons. Thus, to investigate the relative contribution of synaptic (a1ß2?2) and ex-trasynaptic (a4ß2d) GABAARs to the thalamic effects of etomidate, we performed whole-cell recordings from mouse TC neurons lacking synaptic (a10/0) or extrasynaptic (d0/0) GABAARs. Etomidate (3µM) significantly inhibited action-potential discharge in a manner that was dependent on facilitation of both synaptic and extrasynaptic GABAARs, although enhanced tonic inhibition was dominant in this respect. Additionally, phasic inhibition evoked by stimulation of the nucleus reticularis exhibited a spillover component mediated by d-GABAARs, which was significantly prolonged in the presence of etomidate. Thus, etomidate greatly enhanced the transient suppression of TC spike trains by evoked inhibitory postsynaptic potentials. Collectively, these results suggest that the deactivation of thalamus observed during etomidate-induced anaesthesia involves potentiation of tonic and phasic inhibition, and implicate amplification of spillover inhibition as a novel mechanism to regulate the gating of sensory information through the thalamus during anaesthetic states.