Early postnatal exposure to general anesthetic agents causes a lasting impairment in learning and memory in animal models. One hypothesis to explain this finding is that exposure to anesthetic agents during critical points in neural development disrupts the formation of brain circuitry. Here, we explore the effects of sevoflurane on the neuronal growth cone, a specialization at the growing end of axons and dendrites that is responsible for the targeted growth that underlies connectivity between neurons.


Dissociated neuronal cultures were prepared from embryonic mouse neocortex. Time-lapse images of live growth cones exposed to anesthetics were taken using differential interference contrast microscopy, and the rate of change of the area of the lamellipodia and the speed of the filopodial tip were quantified as measures of motility. The involvement of the p75 neurotropin receptor (p75NTR) was tested using inhibitors applied to the media and by a coimmunoprecipitation assay.


The rate of lamellipodial area change and filopodial tip velocity in both axonal and dendritic growth cones was significantly reduced with sevoflurane exposure between 2% and 6%. Motility could be substantially restored by treatment with Y27632 and TAT-peptide 5, which are inhibitors of Rho Kinase and p75NTR, respectively. Sevoflurane results in reduced coimmunoprecipitation of Rho-Guanosine-5′-diphosphate dissociation inhibitor after pulldown with p75NTR.


Sevoflurane interferes with growth cone motility, which is a critical process in brain circuitry formation. Our data suggest that this may occur through an action on the p75NTR, which promotes growth inhibitory signaling by the Rho pathway.