Exposure to surgery with anesthesia early in life may lead to abnormal behavior, learning, and memory in humans. Pre-clinical studies have suggested a critical role of glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) in these effects. We hypothesize that the inhibition of extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK)-cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) pathway contributes to GDNF decrease and the dysfunction of learning and memory. To address this hypothesis, 7-day-old Sprague-Dawley male and female rats were subjected to right carotid artery exposure (surgery) under sevoflurane anesthesia. Their learning and memory were tested by the Barnes maze, and novel object recognition tests started 23 days after the surgery. Blood and brain were harvested at various times after surgery for biochemical analyses. Rats with surgery and anesthesia performed poorly in the Barnes maze and novel object recognition tests compared with control rats. Rats with surgery had a decreased GDNF concentration in the brain and urine. The concentrations of urine GDNF were negatively correlated with the performance of rats in a delayed memory phase of the Barnes maze test. Surgery increased proinflammatory cytokines in the blood and brain. Intracerebroventricular injection of GDNF attenuated the increased inflammatory response in surgery rats. Surgery inhibited ERK and CREB. Inhibiting ERK reduced GDNF and induced poor performance in the Barnes maze and novel object recognition tests of rats without surgery. Surgery also increased brain-derived natriuretic peptide (BNP) in the brain. Intracerebroventricular injection of BNP inhibited ERK and CREB, reduced GDNF, and impaired learning and memory. Surgery, ERK inhibition, and BNP reduced the expression of synaptic proteins. Our results suggest that surgery increases BNP that inhibits ERK-CREB signaling to reduce GDNF, which leads to an unbalanced inflammatory response and a reduced synaptic protein expression for the development of postoperative cognitive dysfunction. KEY MESSAGES: Surgery increases BNP and decreases ERK/CREB signaling to reduce GDNF. The increase in BNP and decrease in ERK/CREB signaling contribute to postoperative cognitive dysfunction. GDNF reduction contributes to neuroinflammatory response after surgery. Urine GDNF concentrations are negatively corrected with poor spatial memory performance.

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Hui Wang et al.
Journal of molecular medicine (Berlin, Germany) January 2023