Esketamine, a widely used intravenous general anesthetic, is also employed for obstetric and pediatric anesthesia, and depression treatment. However, concerns regarding esketamine abuse have emerged. Moreover, the potential in vivo toxicity of esketamine on growth and development remains unclear. To address these concerns, we investigated the effects of esketamine exposure on developmental parameters, cell apoptosis, and gene expression in zebrafish. Esketamine exposure concentration-dependently decreased the heart rate and body length of zebrafish embryos/larvae while increasing the hatching rate and spontaneous movement frequency. Developmental retardation of zebrafish larvae, including shallow pigmentation, small eyes, and delayed yolk sac absorption, was also observed following esketamine treatment. Esketamine exposure altered the expression of apoptosis-related genes in zebrafish heads, primarily downregulating bax, caspase9, caspase3, caspase6, and caspase7. Intriguingly, BTSA1, a Bax agonist, reversed the anti-apoptotic and decelerated body growth effects of esketamine in zebrafish. Collectively, our findings suggest that esketamine may hinder embryonic development by inhibiting embryonic apoptosis via the Bax/Caspase9/Caspase3 pathway. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to report the lethal toxicity of esketamine in zebrafish. We have elucidated the developmental toxic effects of esketamine on zebrafish larvae and its potential apoptotic mechanisms. Further studies are warranted to evaluate the safety of esketamine in animals and humans.

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Wenjuan Yuan Et Al.
Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology December 2023