Background: Developmental anesthetic neurotoxicity is well described in animal models for GABAergic, sedating drugs. Here we investigate the role of the benzodiazepine, diazepam on spatial and recognition memory of young adult rats after neonatal exposure.

Methods: On postnatal day 7, male (n = 30) and female (n = 30) rats were exposed to diazepam (30 mg/kg intraperitoneally) or vehicle. On postnatal day 42, animals started a series of behavioral tests including Barnes maze (spatial memory), object recognition battery (recognition memory), and open field and elevated plus maze (anxiety). In a separate cohort, blood gases were obtained from diazepam-exposed animals and compared to isoflurane-exposed animals (1 MAC for 4 hours).

Results: Male animals exposed to diazepam had impaired performance in the Barnes maze and were unable to differentiate the goal quadrant from chance (1-sample t test; tdiazepam/male (14) = 1.49, P = .158). Female rats exposed to diazepam performed the same as the vehicle controls (tdiazepam/female (12) = 3.4, P = .005, tvehicle/female (14) = 3.62, P = .003, tvehicle/male (13) = 4.76, P < .001). There were no statistical differences in either males or females in measures of recognition memory, anxiety, or locomotor activity in other behavioral tests. Physiologic measurements of arterial blood gases taken from animals under sedation with diazepam were much less aberrant than those exposed to the volatile anesthetic isoflurane by t test (pHdiazepam [M = 7.56, standard deviation {SD} = 0.11] versus pHIsoflurane [M = 7.15, SD = 0.02], t(10) = 8.93, P < .001; Paco2diazepam [M = 32.8 mm Hg, SD = 10.1] versus Paco2Isoflurane [M = 91.8 mm Hg, SD = 5.8], t(10) = 8.93, P < .001).

Conclusions: The spatial memory results are consistent with volatile anesthetic suggesting a model in which development of the GABA system plays a critical role in determining susceptibility to behavioral deficits.

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Chinn, Cummins, & Sall.
Anesthesia & Analgesia June 2023