Barbiturates and benzodiazepines are GABAA-receptor agonists and potent antiseizure medications. We reported that exposure of neonatal macaques to combination of phenobarbital and midazolam (Pb/M) for 24 h, at clinically relevant doses and plasma levels, causes widespread apoptosis affecting neurons and oligodendrocytes. Notably, the extent of injury was markedly more severe compared to shorter (8 h) exposure to these drugs. We also reported that, in the infant macaque, mild hypothermia ameliorates the apoptosis response to the anesthetic sevoflurane. These findings prompted us explore whether mild hypothermia might protect infant nonhuman primates from neuro- and gliotoxicity of Pb/M. Since human infants with seizures may receive combinations of benzodiazepines and barbiturates for days, we opted for 24 h treatment with Pb/M. Neonatal rhesus monkeys received phenobarbital intravenously, followed by midazolam infusion over 24 h under normothermia (T > 36.5 °C-37.5 °C; n = 4) or mild hypothermia (T = 35 °C-36.5 °C; n = 5). Medication doses and blood levels measured were comparable to those in human infants. Animals were euthanized at 36 h and brains examined immunohistochemically and stereologically. Treatment was well tolerated. Extensive degeneration of neurons and oligodendrocytes was seen at 36 h in both groups within neocortex, basal ganglia, hippocampus and brainstem. Mild hypothermia over 36 h (maintained until terminal perfusion) conferred no protection against the neurotoxic and gliotoxic effects of Pb/M. This is in marked contrast to our previous findings that mild hypothermia is protective in the context of a 5 h-long exposure to sevoflurane in infant macaques. These findings demonstrate that brain injury caused by prolonged exposure to Pb/M in the neonatal primate cannot be ameliorated by mild hypothermia.

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Ikonomidou et al.
Neurobiology of Disease September 2022