Nick Franks

TOPIC:  Overlapping mechanisms of sleep and anaesthesia


  • Professor
  • FRSB
  • FRCA
  • FMedSci
  • FRS is Professor of Biophysics and Anaesthetics at Imperial College London where he is in the Department of Life Sciences.


After a PhD with Nobel laureate Maurice Wilkins at King’s College London Nick Franks moved to Imperial College as one of the founding members of the Biophysics Section. Throughout his career, Nick Franks has been interested in how general anaesthetics act and he has demonstrated that the traditional view that general anaesthetics acted on lipid bilayers was incorrect. He has shown that, despite their chemical diversity, anaesthetics act by directly and selectively binding to a small number of protein targets in the central nervous system, a paradigm that is now widely accepted. He identified a key target for the inert gas xenon that has led to interest in its possible use as a neuroprotectant. For the past few years his focus is on identifying the neuronal pathways responsible for anaesthetic-induced loss of consciousness, and the extent to which anaesthetics act on the neuronal pathways responsible for natural sleep.


  • Neuronal ensembles sufficient for recovery sleep and the sedative actions of a2 adrenergic agonists Z Zhang et al. Nature Neuroscience 18, 553-561 (2015)
  • Altered activity in the central medial thalamus precedes changes in the neocortex during transitions into both sleep and propofol anesthesia R Baker et al. J. Neurosci. 34, 13326-13335 (2014)
  • A propofol binding site on mammalian GABAA receptors identified by photolabeling GMS Yip et al. Nature Chemical Biology 9, 715-720 (2013)
  • An unexpected role for TASK-3 potassium channels in network oscillations with implications for sleep mechanisms and anesthetic action DSJ Pang et al. PNAS 106, 17546-17551 (2009)
  • The involvement of hypothalamic sleep pathways in general anesthesia: testing the hypothesis using the GABAA receptor β3N265M knock-in mouse AY Zecharia et al. J. Neurosci. 29, 2177-2187 (2009)
  • General anaesthesia: from molecular targets to neuronal pathways of sleep and arousal NP Franks Nature Rev. Neuroscience 9, 370-386 (2008)
  • Competitive Inhibition at the Glycine Site of the N-Methyl-d-aspartate Receptor by the Anesthetics Xenon and IsofluraneEvidence from Molecular Modeling and Electrophysiology R Dickinson et al. Anesthesiology 107, 756-767 (2007)
  • The sedative component of anesthesia is mediated by GABAA receptors in an endogenous sleep pathway LE Nelson et al. Nature Neuroscience 5, 979-984 (2002)
  • Effects of xenon on in vitro and in vivo models of neuronal injury S Wilhelm et al. Anesthesiology 96, 1485-1491 (2002)
  • How does xenon produce anaesthesia? NP Franks et al. Nature 396, 324-325 (1998)
  • Crystal structure of human serum albumin complexed with fatty acid reveals an asymmetric distribution of binding sites S Curry et al. Nature Structural Biology 5, 827-835 (1998)
  • Molecular and cellular mechanisms of general anaesthesia NP Franks, WR Lieb Nature 367, 607-614 (1994)
  • Stereospecific effects of inhalational general anesthetic optical isomers on nerve ion channels NP Franks, WR Lieb Science 254, 427-430 (1991)
  • Volatile general anaesthetics activate a novel neuronal K+ current NP Franks, WR Lieb Nature 333, 662-664 (1988)
  • Partitioning of long-chain alcohols into lipid bilayers: implications for mechanisms of general anesthesia NP Franks, WR Lieb PNAS 83, 5116-5120 (1986)
  • Mapping of general anaesthetic target sites provides a molecular basis for cutoff effects. NP Franks, WR Lieb Nature 316, 349-351 (1985)
  • Do general anaesthetics act by competitive binding to specific receptors NP Franks, WR Lieb Nature 310, 599-601 (1984)
  • Molecular mechanisms of general anaesthesia NP Franks, WR Lieb Nature 300, 487-493 (1982)
  • Is membrane expansion relevant to anaesthesia? NP Franks, WR Lieb Nature 292, 248-251 (1981)
  • The structure of lipid bilayers and the effects of general anaesthetics: an x-ray and neutron diffraction study NP Franks, WR Lieb Journal of molecular biology 133, 469-500 (1979)
  • A direct method for determination of membrane electron density profiles on an absolute scale NP Franks et al. Nature 276, 530-532 (1978)
  • Where do general anaesthetics act? NP Franks, WR Lieb Nature 274, 339-342 (1978)
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