Developing brain networks are particularly receptive to acquiring certain kinds of information and even need those instructive signals for their continued functional assembly. Information input is commonly translated into neural activity driven primarily by GABAergic and glutamatergic neurotransmission. During critical periods of neural development, the timing and duration of neural activity patterns in maturing brain circuitry sculpt function, and even short interference with physiological activity patterns can trigger long-term functional consequences. In this context, and as anaesthetics are major pharmacological modulators of neural activity, it is not surprising that experimental data in animals convincingly raise the plausibility for persistent behavioural and cognitive alterations after exposure to anaesthetics in early postnatal life. Although the human relevance of these laboratory observations remains debated, manipulating neural activity with general anaesthetics during brain development provides us with an extraordinary experimental tool to study critical-period neural plasticity. Indeed, deciphering molecular, cellular, and network mechanisms underlying the effects of anaesthesia exposure on immature brain networks may provide us with a better understanding of the context-dependent modulation of neural plasticity. In addition to advancing academic knowledge, this line of research may also lead us to develop therapeutics, where general anaesthetics could be used as modulators of pathological plasticity states, an exciting concept that goes beyond the current use of these drugs to provide a rapidly reversibly state of unconsciousness.

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