There is increasing concern about the potential effects of anesthesia exposure on the developing brain. The effects of relatively brief anesthesia exposures used repeatedly to acquire serial magnetic resonance imaging scans could be examined prospectively in rhesus macaques. We analyzed magnetic resonance diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of 32 rhesus macaques (14 females, 18 males) aged 2 weeks to 36 months to assess postnatal white matter (WM) maturation. We investigated the longitudinal relationships between each DTI property and anesthesia exposure, taking age, sex, and weight of the monkeys into consideration. Quantification of anesthesia exposure was normalized to account for variation in exposures. Segmented linear regression with two knots provided the best model for quantifying WM DTI properties across brain development as well as the summative effect of anesthesia exposure. The resulting model revealed statistically significant age and anesthesia effects in most WM tracts. Our analysis indicated there were major effects on WM associated with low levels of anesthesia even when repeated as few as three times. Fractional anisotropy values were reduced across several WM tracts in the brain, indicating that anesthesia exposure may delay WM maturation, and highlight the potential clinical concerns with even a few exposures in young children.

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Tomlinson et al.
Developmental Psychobiology July 2023