General anesthesia during infancy is associated with neurocognitive abnormalities. Potential mechanisms include anesthetic neurotoxicity, surgical disease, and cerebral hypoxia-ischemia. This study aimed to determine the incidence of low cerebral oxygenation and associated factors during general anesthesia in infants.


This multicenter study enrolled 453 infants aged less than 6 months having general anesthesia for 30 min or more. Regional cerebral oxygenation was measured by near-infrared spectroscopy. We defined events (more than 3 min) for low cerebral oxygenation as mild (60 to 69% or 11 to 20% below baseline), moderate (50 to 59% or 21 to 30% below baseline), or severe (less than 50% or more than 30% below baseline); for low mean arterial pressure as mild (36 to 45 mmHg), moderate (26 to 35 mmHg), or severe (less than 25 mmHg); and low pulse oximetry saturation as mild (80 to 89%), moderate (70 to 79%), or severe (less than 70%).


The incidences of mild, moderate, and severe low cerebral oxygenation were 43%, 11%, and 2%, respectively; mild, moderate, and severe low mean arterial pressure were 62%, 36%, and 13%, respectively; and mild, moderate, and severe low arterial saturation were 15%, 4%, and 2%, respectively. Severe low oxygen saturation measured by pulse oximetry was associated with mild and moderate cerebral desaturation; American Society of Anesthesiology Physical Status III or IV versus I was associated with moderate cerebral desaturation. Severe low cerebral saturation events were too infrequent to analyze.


Mild and moderate low cerebral saturation occurred frequently, whereas severe low cerebral saturation was uncommon. Low mean arterial pressure was common and not well associated with low cerebral saturation. Unrecognized severe desaturation lasting 3 min or longer in infants seems unlikely to explain the subsequent development of neurocognitive abnormalities.