Diagnostic and invasive procedures in premature infants may require general anesthesia. General anesthetics interfere with the development of the immature animal brain. Accelerated apoptosis, disturbed synaptogenesis, and cytoarchitecture are among the mechanisms suspected to underlie this phenomenon. The implications for humans are unknown. This article presents current suspected mechanisms of anesthesia-induced neurotoxicity and elaborates on the difficulties in translating results from animal research to human. Ethical considerations limit the conduct of such experiments in human neonates, but the use of animal models is still considered feasible. Vulnerable periods in brain development need further identification as do neurotoxic and neuroprotective interventions.

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