Most clinically used general anesthetics have demonstrated neurotoxicity in animal studies, but the related mechanisms remain unknown. Previous studies suggest that anesthetics affect neuronal development through neuroinflammation, and significant effects of neuroinflammation on neurogenesis and neuronal disease have been shown. In the present study, we treated pregnant mice with 2% sevoflurane for 3 h at gestational day 15.5 and analyzed the expression of proinflammatory cytokines, including IL-6 and IL-17, in fetal mice brains. Sevoflurane induced IL-6 mRNA significantly, but did not upregulate IL-17. Other volatile anesthetics, including isoflurane, enflurane, and halothane, induced IL-6 mRNA in fetal brains as well as sevoflurane, but propofol did not. Sevoflurane and isoflurane showed the same effects in cultured microglia and astrocytes, but not in neurons. Because IL-6 induction in fetal brains may affect neuronal precursor cells (NPCs), numbers of NPCs in the subventricular zone were studied, revealing that maternal sevoflurane treatment significantly increases NPCs in offspring at 8 weeks after birth (p8wk). But this effect was absent in IL-6 knockout mice. Finally, behavioral experiments also revealed that maternal sevoflurane exposure causes learning impairments in p8wk offspring. These findings collectively demonstrate that maternal exposure to volatile anesthetics upregulates IL-6 in fetal mice brains, and the effects could result in long-lasting influences on neuronal development.

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