Anesthesia in pregnant women may cause adverse effects in the hippocampus of unborn babies and fetal brain development. The mechanisms underlying pathological changes resulting from anesthetics are unclear. This study tested the hypothesis that exposure to desflurane during pregnancy may impair cognition and memory functions of juvenile offspring. Pregnant mice (at gestational day 14) were administered 10% desflurane for 3 h and compared to sham control and sciatic nerve hemi-transection surgery. Hippocampal tissues of both fetal (G14) and offspring mice (postnatal day 31) were collected and analyzed by real-time qPCR and Western blot. Functional tests were performed to assess fear and memory functions in offspring mice. Primary hippocampal neuronal cultures from postnatal day 0 (without desflurane exposure) were examined for neuronal and synaptic development under desflurane treatment in vitro. In this acute experiment, we showed that neuronal cultures exposed to desflurane significantly increased interleukin (IL)-6 expression and apoptotic gene caspase-3 activation. Desflurane exposure significantly reduced PSD-95 expression in hippocampal neurons. Similar changes were observed in hippocampal tissues from juvenile offspring mice. Inhaled desflurane impaired memory functions in offspring mice compared to sham control. These mice displayed higher sensitivity to fear conditioning. Neurons isolated from the mice exposed to desflurane exhibited significantly lower levels of synaptophysin expression. These results suggest that anesthetic exposure together with surgery during pregnancy may induce detrimental effects in juvenile offspring mice via the induction of cell death and disruption of synaptic integrity.

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