The neurodevelopmental toxicity of isoflurane has been proved by many studies, which makes it essential to explore the underline mechanisms and search for protective agents to attenuate its neurotoxcity. Accumulating evidence showed that L-theanine had neuroprotective effects on injured neurons and the developing brain. The present study was designed to investigate whether L-theanine could attenuate isoflurane-induced damage in neural stem cells and cognitive impairment in young mice, and to discuss the role of Akt/GSK-3β signaling pathway in this process. Multipotential neural stem cells (NSCs) and C57BL/6J mice were treated with either gas mixture, isoflurane, or L-theanine 30 min prior to isoflurane exposure, respectively. NSC viability was detected by CCK-8 assay. NSC proliferation and apoptosis were assessed by immunofluorescence and TUNEL assay, respectively. The levels of cleaved caspase-3 and p-Akt and p-GSK-3β in NSCs were tested by Western blotting. Cognitive function of mice was tested by Morris Water Maze at postnatal day (P) 30-35. The results indicated that isoflurane exposure inhibited NSC viability and proliferation, promoted NSC apoptosis as well as increased caspase-3 activation and down-regulated the expressions of p-Akt and p-GSK-3β in NSCs, and that isoflurane exposure on neonatal mice would induce late cognitive impairment. Pretreatment with L-theanine could attenuate isoflurane-caused damage in NSCs and cognitive deficits in young mice. Addinonally, the protective effects of L-theanine on isoflurane-injured NSCs could be reversed by Akt inhibitor Triciribine. Our data showed that pretreatment with L-theanine eliminated the NSC damage and cognitive impairment induced by isoflurane exposure, and that the neuroprotective effect of L-theanine was associated with the Akt/GSK-3β signaling pathway.

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