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Neurotox Res. 2010 Feb;17(2):179-88. doi: 10.1007/s12640-009-9088-z. Epub 2009 Jul 21.

General anesthesia causes long-lasting disturbances in the ultrastructural properties of developing synapses in young rats.

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Department of Anesthesiology, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA 22908, USA.


Common general anesthetics administered to young rats at the peak of brain development cause widespread apoptotic neurodegeneration in their immature brain. Behavioral studies have shown that this leads to learning and memory deficiencies later in life. The subiculum, a part of the hippocampus proper and Papez's circuit, is involved in cognitive development and is vulnerable to anesthesia-induced developmental neurodegeneration. This degeneration is manifested by acute substantial neuroapoptotic damage and permanent neuronal loss in later stages of synaptogenesis. Since synapse formation is a critical component of brain development, we examined the effects of highly neurotoxic anesthesia combination (isoflurane, nitrous oxide, and midazolam) on ultrastructural development of synapses in the rat subiculum. We found that this anesthesia, when administered at the peak of synaptogenesis, causes long-lasting injury to the subicular neuropil. This is manifested as neuropil scarcity and disarray, morphological changes indicative of mitochondria degeneration, a decrease in the number of neuronal profiles with multiple synaptic boutons and significant decreases in synapse volumetric densities. We believe that observed morphological disturbances of developing synapses may, at least in part, contribute to the learning and memory deficits that occur later in life after exposure of the immature brain to general anesthesia.

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