Both animal and retrospective human studies have linked extended and repeated general anaesthesia during early development with cognitive and behavioural deficits later in life. However, the neuronal circuit mechanisms underlying this anaesthesia-induced behavioural impairment are poorly understood.
Neonatal mice were administered one or three doses of propofol, a commonly used i.v. general anaesthetic, over Postnatal days 7-11. Control mice received Intralipid® vehicle injections. At 4 months of age, the mice were subjected to a series of behavioural tests, including motor learning. During the process of motor learning, calcium activity of pyramidal neurones and three classes of inhibitory interneurones in the primary motor cortex were examined in vivo using two-photon microscopy.
Repeated, but not a single, exposure of neonatal mice to propofol i.p. caused motor learning impairment in adulthood, which was accompanied by a reduction of pyramidal neurone number and activity in the motor cortex. The activity of local inhibitory interneurone networks was also altered: somatostatin-expressing and parvalbumin-expressing interneurones were hypoactive, whereas vasoactive intestinal peptide-expressing interneurones were hyperactive when the mice were performing a motor learning task. Administration of low-dose pentylenetetrazol to attenuate γ-aminobutyric acid A receptor-mediated inhibition or CX546 to potentiate α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid-subtype glutamate receptor function during emergence from anaesthesia ameliorated neuronal dysfunction in the cortex and prevented long-term behavioural deficits.
Repeated exposure of neonatal mice to propofol anaesthesia during early development causes cortical circuit dysfunction and behavioural impairments in later life. Potentiation of neuronal activity during recovery from anaesthesia reduces these adverse effects of early-life anaesthesia.