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Anesth Analg. 2012 Sep;115(3):638-62. doi: 10.1213/ANE.0b013e31826253f2. Epub 2012 Jul 13.

Neuraxial analgesia in neonates and infants: a review of clinical and preclinical strategies for the development of safety and efficacy data.

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Portex Unit: Pain Research, UCL Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital NHS Trust, London, UK.


Neuraxial drugs provide robust pain control, have the potential to improve outcomes, and are an important component of the perioperative care of children. Opioids or clonidine improves analgesia when added to perioperative epidural infusions; analgesia is significantly prolonged by the addition of clonidine, ketamine, neostigmine, or tramadol to single-shot caudal injections of local anesthetic; and neonatal intrathecal anesthesia/analgesia is increasing in some centers. However, it is difficult to determine the relative risk-benefit of different techniques and drugs without detailed and sensitive data related to analgesia requirements, side effects, and follow-up. Current data related to benefits and complications in neonates and infants are summarized, but variability in current neuraxial drug use reflects the relative lack of high-quality evidence. Recent preclinical reports of adverse effects of general anesthetics on the developing brain have increased awareness of the potential benefit of neuraxial anesthesia/analgesia to avoid or reduce general anesthetic dose requirements. However, the developing spinal cord is also vulnerable to drug-related toxicity, and although there are well-established preclinical models and criteria for assessing spinal cord toxicity in adult animals, until recently there had been no systematic evaluation during early life. Therefore, in the second half of this review, we present preclinical data evaluating age-dependent changes in the pharmacodynamic response to different spinal analgesics, and recent studies evaluating spinal toxicity in specific developmental models. Finally, we advocate use of neuraxial drugs with the widest demonstrable safety margin and suggest minimum standards for preclinical evaluation before adoption of new analgesics or preparations into routine clinical practice.

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