Anesthetic-induced toxicity in early life may lead to risk of cognitive decline at later ages. Notably, multiple exposures to isoflurane (ISO) cause acute apoptotic cell death in the developing brain and long-term cognitive dysfunction. This study is the first to investigate whether levosimendan (LVS), known for its protective myocardial properties, can prevent anesthesia-induced apoptotic response in brain cells and learning and memory impairment. Postnatal day (P)7 Wistar albino pups were randomly assigned to groups consisting of an equal number of males and females in this laboratory investigation. We treated rats with LVS (0.8 mg/kg/day) intranasally 30 min before each ISO exposure (1.5%, 3 h) at P7+9+11. We selected DMSO as the drug vehicle. Also, the control group at P7+9+11 received 50% O2 for 3 h instead of ISO. Neuroprotective activity of LVS against ISO-induced cognitive dysfunction was evaluated by Morris water maze. Expression of apoptotic-related proteins was detected in the whole brain using western blot. LVS pretreatment significantly prevented anesthesia-induced deficit in spatial learning (at P28-32) and memory (at P33, P60, and P90). No sex-dependent difference occurred on any day of the training and probe trial. Intranasal LVS was also found to significantly prevent the ISO-induced apoptosis by reducing Bax and cleaved caspase-3, and by increasing Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL. Our findings support pretreatment with intranasal LVS application as a simple strategy in daily clinical practice in pediatric anesthesia to protect infants and children from the risk of general anesthesia-induced cell death and cognitive declines.

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