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Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Oct;26(7):1169-79. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2012.06.004. Epub 2012 Jun 21.

Thinking through postoperative cognitive dysfunction: How to bridge the gap between clinical and pre-clinical perspectives.

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Department of Molecular Neurobiology, University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.


Following surgery, patients may experience cognitive decline, which can seriously reduce quality of life. This postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) is mainly seen in the elderly and is thought to be mediated by surgery-induced inflammatory reactions. Clinical studies tend to define POCD as a persisting, generalised decline in cognition, without specifying which cognitive functions are impaired. Pre-clinical research mainly describes early hippocampal dysfunction as a consequence of surgery-induced neuroinflammation. These different approaches to study POCD impede translation between clinical and pre-clinical research outcomes and may hamper the development of appropriate interventions. This article analyses which cognitive domains deteriorate after surgery and which brain areas might be involved. The most important outcomes are: (1) POCD encompasses a wide range of cognitive impairments; (2) POCD affects larger areas of the brain; and (3) individual variation in the vulnerability of neuronal networks to neuroinflammatory mechanisms may determine if and how POCD manifests itself. We argue that, for pre-clinical and clinical research of POCD to advance, the effects of surgery on various cognitive functions and brain areas should be studied. Moreover, in addition to general characteristics, research should take inter-relationships between cognitive complaints and physical and mental characteristics into account.

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