Despite the widespread use of general anesthesia, a growing body of research suggests that anesthesia exposure early in life may be associated with acute neurotoxicity and lasting behavioral changes. To better evaluate the risk posed by early life anesthesia on cognitive development, infant rhesus monkeys were exposed to an anesthesia regimen previously shown to be neurotoxic and their cognitive development was subsequently measured using a translational operant test battery. On postnatal day 5 or 6, animals were exposed to 8 h of isoflurane (n = 6, 1% isoflurane in a vehicle gas of 70% nitrous oxide and 30% oxygen) or a control condition (n = 8). Starting at 7 months of age, the monkeys were continuously trained and assessed on the NCTR Operant Test Battery (OTB). The OTB consists of cognitive tests which also exist in near identical forms for use in rats and humans, and includes tests of learning, memory, color discrimination, and motivation. Monkeys previously exposed to anesthesia showed a clear decrease in responding in a measure of motivation, as well as a lower response rate in a learning task. These data further support the hypothesis that prolonged anesthesia early in life may increase the risk of developing cognitive impairments later in life.

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