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Curr Drug Targets. 2012 Jun;13(7):944-51.

General anesthetics in pediatric anesthesia: influences on the developing brain.

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Department of Anaesthesia (Pediatrics), Harvard Medical School, Senior Associate in Anesthesiology, Children’s Hospital Boston, Massachusetts, USA 02115.


Millions of newborn and infants receive anesthetic, sedative and analgesic drugs for surgery and painful procedures on a daily basis. However, recent laboratory reports clearly demonstrate that anesthetic and sedative drugs induced both neuroapoptosis and neurocognitive deficits in laboratory models. This issue is of paramount interest to pediatric anesthesiologists and intensivists because it questions the safety of anesthetics used for fetal and neonatal anesthesia. Most clinically utilized anesthetic drugs have been found to induce neuronal cell death in the developing brain and to potentially cause long-term neurological impairment. Conversely, painful stimuli without analgesia and anesthesia have been implicated in triggering neuro-apoptosis in juvenile mammalian models. Published retrospective reviews demonstrate temporary neurological sequelae after prolonged anesthetic exposure in young children and larger studies identify long-term neurodevelopmental impairment after neonatal surgery and anesthesia. This paper examines the evidence for the effects of commonly used anesthetics on neuronal structure and neurocognitive function in laboratory models and reviews the relevant clinical human epidemiologic data.

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