A prolonged exposure to ketamine triggers significant neurodegeneration and long-term neurocognitive deficits in the developing brain. Monosialotetrahexosylganglioside (GM1) can limit the neuronal damage from necrosis and apoptosis in neurodegenerative conditions. We aimed to assess whether GM1 can prevent ketamine-induced developmental neurotoxicity.


Postnatal day 7 (P7) rat pups received 5 doses of intraperitoneal ketamine (20 mg/kg per dose) at 90-minute intervals for 6 hours. Cognitive functions, determined by using Morris water maze (MWM) including escape latency (at P32–36) and platform crossing (at P37), were compared among the ketamine-exposed pups treated with or without exogenous GM1 (30 mg/kg; n = 12/group). The effect of GM1 on apoptosis in hippocampus was determined by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase–mediated 2′-deoxyuridine 5′-triphosphate nick end labeling (TUNEL) staining and activated caspase 3 measurement. The hippocampal expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), along with the phosphorylation of protein kinase B (AKT) and extracellular signal-related kinases 1 and 2 (ERK1/2), was detected by western blotting (n = 6/group). Anti-BDNF antibody (2 μg per rat) administered before GM1 treatment was applied to determine the neuroprotective mechanisms of GM1.


The rats receiving ketamine exposure experinced cognitive impairment in MWM test compared to the control rats, indicated by prolonged escape latency at P34 (P = .006), P35 (P = .002), and P36 (P = .005). However, in GM1-pretreated rats, ketamine exposure did not induce prolonged escape latency. The exogenous GM1 increased the platform-crossing times at P37 (3.00 ± 2.22 times vs 5.40 ± 1.53 times, mean ± standard deviation; P = .041) and reduced the hippocampal TUNEL-positive cells and cleaved-caspase 3 expression in ketamine-exposed young rats. Ketamine decreased BDNF expression and phosphorylation of AKT and ERK in the hippocampus, whereas exogenous GM1 blocked these ketamine-caused effects. However, for the ketamine-exposed rat pups receiving exogenous GM1, compared to immunoglobulin Y (IgY) isotype control, the BDNF-neutralizing antibody treatment counteracted the exogenous GM1-induced improvement of the escape latency at P36 (41.32 ± 12.37 seconds vs 25.14 ± 8.97 seconds, mean ± standard deviation; P = .036), platform-crossing times at P37 (2.16 ± 1.12 times vs 3.92 ± 1.97 times, mean ± standard deviation; P < .036), apoptotic activity, as well as AKT and ERK1/2 phosphorylation in the hippocampus of ketamine-challenged young rats.


Our data suggest that the exogenous GM1 acts on BDNF signaling pathway to ameliorate the cognitive impairment and hippocampal apoptosis induced by ketamine in young rats. Our study may indicate a potential use of GM1 in preventing the cognitive deficits induced by ketamine in the young per se.

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