With advances in pediatric and obstetric surgery, pediatric patients are subject to complex procedures under general anesthesia. The effects of anesthetic exposure on the developing brain may be confounded by several factors including pre-existing disorders and surgery-induced stress. Ketamine, a noncompetitive N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, is routinely used as a pediatric general anesthetic. However, controversy remains about whether ketamine exposure may be neuroprotective or induce neuronal degeneration in the developing brain. Here, we report the effects of ketamine exposure on the neonatal nonhuman primate brain under surgical stress. Eight neonatal rhesus monkeys (postnatal days 5-7) were randomly assigned to each of two groups: Group A (n = 4) received 2 mg/kg ketamine via intravenous bolus prior to surgery and a 0.5 mg/kg/h ketamine infusion during surgery in the presence of a standardized pediatric anesthetic regimen; Group B (n = 4) received volumes of normal saline equivalent to those of ketamine given to Group A animals prior to and during surgery, also in the presence of a standardized pediatric anesthetic regimen. Under anesthesia, the surgery consisted of a thoracotomy followed by closing the pleural space and tissue in layers using standard surgical techniques. Vital signs were monitored to be within normal ranges throughout anesthesia. Elevated levels of cytokines interleukin (IL)-8, IL-15, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 (MCP-1), and macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-1β at 6 and 24 h after surgery were detected in ketamine-exposed animals. Fluoro-Jade C staining revealed significantly higher neuronal degeneration in the frontal cortex of ketamine-exposed animals, compared with control animals. Intravenous ketamine administration prior to and throughout surgery in a clinically relevant neonatal primate model appears to elevate cytokine levels and increase neuronal degeneration. Consistent with previous data on the effects of ketamine on the developing brain, the results from the current randomized controlled study in neonatal monkeys undergoing simulated surgery show that ketamine does not provide neuroprotective or anti-inflammatory effects.

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Cheng Wang et al.
Experimental Biology and Medicine (Maywood, N.J.) April 2023