Neonatal and infant exposure to volatile anesthetics has been associated with long-term learning, memory, and behavioral deficits. Although early anesthesia exposure has been linked to a number of underlying structural abnormalities, functional changes associated with these impairments remain poorly understood. To investigate the relationship between functional alteration in neuronal circuits and learning deficiency, resting state functional MRI (rsfMRI) connectivity was examined in adolescent rabbits exposed to general anesthesia as neonates (1 MAC isoflurane for 2 h on postnatal days P8, P11, and P14) and unanesthetized controls before and after training with a trace eyeblink classical conditioning (ECC) paradigm. Long-range connectivity was measured between several key regions of interest (ROIs), including primary and secondary somatosensory cortices, thalamus, hippocampus, and cingulate. In addition, metrics of regional BOLD fluctuation amplitudes and coherence, amplitude of low-frequency fluctuation (ALFF), fractional ALFF (fALFF), and regional homogeneity (ReHo) were calculated. Our results showed that the trace ECC learning rate was significantly lower in the anesthesia-exposed group. No anesthesia-related changes in long-range connectivity, fALFF, or ReHo were found between any ROIs. However, ALFF was significantly higher in anesthesia-exposed rabbits in the primary and secondary somatosensory cortices, and ALFF in those areas was a significant predictor of the learning performance for trace ECC. The absence of anesthesia-related changes in long-range thalamocortical connectivity indicates that functional thalamocortical input is not affected. Higher ALFF in the somatosensory cortex may indicate the developmental disruption of cortical neuronal circuits after neonatal anesthesia exposure, including excessive neuronal synchronization that may underlie the observed cognitive deficits.

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