Abstract

The mechanism by which anesthetics might act on the developing brain in order to cause long term deficits remains incompletely understood. The hippocampus has been identified as a structure that is likely to be involved, as rodent models show numerous deficits in behavioral tasks of learning that are hippocampal-dependent. The hippocampus is an unusual structure in that it is the site of large amounts of neurogenesis postnatally, particularly in the first year of life in humans, and these newly generated neurons are critical to the function of this structure. Intriguingly, neurogenesis is a major developmental event that occurs during postulated windows of vulnerability to developmental anesthetic neurotoxicity across the different species in which it has been studied. In this review, we examine the evidence for anesthetic effects on neurogenesis in the early postnatal period and ask whether neurogenesis should be studied further as a putative mechanism of injury. Multiple anesthetics are considered, and both in vivo and in vitro work is presented. While there is abundant evidence that anesthetics act to suppress neurogenesis at several different phases, evidence of a causal link between these effects and any change in learning behavior remains elusive.

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