Background: Melatonin is known to have protective effects in aging, neurodegenerative disorders and mitochondria-related diseases, while there is a poor understanding of the effects of melatonin treatment on mitophagy in neonatal cognitive dysfunction after repeated sevoflurane exposures. This study explores the protective effects of melatonin on mitophagy and cognition in developing rats exposed to sevoflurane.

Methods: Postnatal day six (P6) neonatal rats were exposed to 3 % sevoflurane for 2 h daily from P6 to P8. In the intervention groups, rats received 3-Methyladenine (3-MA) intracerebroventricularly from P6 to P8 and melatonin intraperitoneally from P6 to P8 following water drinking once daily from P21 to P41, respectively. Behavioral tests, including open field (OF), novel object recognition (NOR), and fear conditioning (FC) tests, were performed to assess cognitive function during young adulthood. In another experiment, rat brains were harvested for biochemical, histopathological, and electron microscopy studies.

Results: Rats exposed to sevoflurane showed disordered mitophagy and mitochondrial dysfunction as revealed by increased mitophagy marker proteins (microtubule-associated protein 1 light chain 3 (LC3) II/I, and parkin), decreased autophagy marker protein (sequestosome 1 (P62/SQSTM1)), electron transport chain (ETC) proteins and ATP levels. Immunofluorescent staining of LC3 was co-localized mostly with a neuronal marker and microglial marker but was not co-localized with a marker for astrocytes in rats exposed to sevoflurane. These rats had poorer performance in the NOR and FC tests than control rats during young adulthood. Melatonin treatment reversed the abnormal expression of mitophagy proteins, mitochondrial energy metabolism, the activity of microglia, and impaired cognition. These ameliorations were blocked by an autophagy inhibitor, 3-MA, except for the activation of microglia.

Conclusion: We have demonstrated that melatonin inhibits microglial activation by enhancing mitophagy and finally significantly reduces sevoflurane-induced deficits in cognition in neonatal rats. These results suggest that melatonin might be beneficial if considered when the anesthesia must be administered at a very young age.

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Hui Zhang Et Al.
International Immunopharmacology December 2023