Propofol is a commonly used general anesthetic for the induction and maintenance of anesthesia and critical care sedation in children, which may add risk to poor neurodevelopmental outcome. We aimed to evaluate the effect of propofol toward primary hippocampal neurons in vitro and the possibly neuroprotective effect of dexmedetomidine pretreatment, as well as the underlying mechanism.

Materials and Procedures

Primary hippocampal neurons were cultured for 8 days in vitro and pretreated with or without dexmedetomidine or phosphorylation inhibitors prior to propofol exposure. Cell viability was measured using cell counting kit-8 assays. Cell apoptosis was evaluated using a transmission electron microscope and flow cytometry analyses. Levels of mRNAs encoding signaling pathway intermediates were assessed using qRT-PCR. The expression of signaling pathway intermediates and apoptosis-related proteins was determined by Western blotting.


Propofol significantly reduced cell viability, induced neuronal apoptosis, and downregulated the expression of the BDNF mRNA and the levels of the phospho-Erk1/2 (p-Erk1/2), phospho-CREB (p-CREB), and BDNF proteins. The dexmedetomidine pretreatment increased neuronal viability and alleviated propofol-induced neuronal apoptosis and rescued the propofol-induced downregulation of both the BDNF mRNA and the levels of the p-Erk1/2, p-CREB, and BDNF proteins. However, this neuroprotective effect was abolished by PD98059, H89, and KG501, further preventing the dexmedetomidine pretreatment from rescuing the propofol-induced downregulation of the BDNF mRNA and p-Erk1/2, p-CREB, and BDNF proteins.


Dexmedetomidine alleviates propofol-induced cytotoxicity toward primary hippocampal neurons in vitro, which correlated with the activation of Erk1/2/CREB/BDNF signaling pathways.

Read More