Since its invention, general anesthesia has been an indispensable component of modern surgery. While traditionally considered safe and beneficial in many pathological settings, hundreds of preclinical studies in various animal species have raised concerns about the detrimental and long-lasting consequences that general anesthetics may cause to the developing brain. Clinical evidence of anesthetic neurotoxicity in humans continues to mount as we continue to contemplate how to move forward. Notwithstanding the alarming evidence, millions of children are being anesthetized each year, setting the stage for substantial healthcare burdens in the future. Hence, furthering our knowledge of the molecular underpinnings of anesthesia-induced developmental neurotoxicity is crucially important and should enable us to develop protective strategies so that currently available general anesthetics could be safely used during critical stages of brain development. In this mini-review, we provide a summary of select strategies with primary focus on the mechanisms of neuroprotection and potential for clinical applicability. First, we summarize a diverse group of chemicals with the emphasis on intracellular targets and signal-transduction pathways. We then discuss epigenetic and transgenerational effects of general anesthetics and potential remedies, and also anesthesia-sparing or anesthesia-delaying approaches. Finally, we present evidence of a novel class of anesthetics with a distinct mechanism of action and a promising safety profile.

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Useinovic, Maksimovic, Near, Quillinan, and Jevtovic-Todorovic.
International Journal of Molecular Sciences January 2022