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Minimum alveolar concentration

Minimum alveolar concentration or MAC is a concept used to compare the strengths of anaesthetic vapours; in simple terms, it is defined as the concentration of the vapour in the lungs that is needed to prevent movement (motor response) in 50% of subjects in response to surgical (pain) stimulus. Thus, it is actually a median value; the use of minimum would appear to be descended from the original paper in which the concept appeared, although the term there was minimal alveolar concentration. If MAC is 1.0, then 1.3 MAC would block response in 99% of subjects.

Other uses of MAC include MAC-BAR (1.7-2.0 MAC), which is the concentration required to block autonomic reflexes to nociceptive stimuli, and MAC-awake (0.3-0.5 MAC), the concentration required to block voluntary reflexes and control perceptive awareness.

Additional recommended knowledge


Formal definition

The MAC is the concentration of the vapour (measured as a percentage at 1 atmosphere, i.e the partial pressure) that prevents the reaction to a standard surgical stimulus (traditionally a set depth and width of skin incisions) in 50% of subjects. This measurement is done at steady state (assuming a constant alveolar concentration for 15 minutes), under the assumption that this allows for an equilibration between the gasses in the alveoli, the blood and the brain.

Meyer-Overton hypothesis

The MAC of a volatile substance is inversely proportional to its lipid solubility (oil:gas coefficient) , in most cases. This is the Meyer-Overton hypothesis. MAC is inversely related to potency i.e. high mac equals low potency.

The hypothesis correlates lipid solubility of an anaesthetic agent with potency (1/MAC) and suggests that onset of anaesthesia occurs when sufficient molecules of the anaesthetic agent have dissolved in the cell's lipid membranes, resulting in anaesthesia. Exceptions to the Meyer-Overton hypothesis can result from:

  • convulsant property of an agent
  • specific receptor (various agents may exhibit an additional effect through specific receptors)
  • co-administration of Alpha2 agonists (dexmedetomidine) and/or opioid receptor agonists (morphine/fentanyl) can decrease the MAC
  • Mullin's critical volume hypothesis
  • positive modulation of GABA at GABAA receptors by barbiturates or benzodiazepines


    Eger, E.I. 2nd (1965), " ", Anesthesiology 26(6): 756-763

    Daniel, M. (1998), " ", Anesthesiology 88(1): 43-49

    Katoh, T. (1999), " ", Anesthesiology 90(2): 398-405


    This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Minimum_alveolar_concentration". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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