N-acetylcysteine, a precursor molecule of glutathione, is an antioxidant. Ketamine, a pediatric anesthetic, has been implicated in cardiotoxicity and neurotoxicity including modulation of monoaminergic systems in mammals and zebrafish. Here, we show that N-acetylcysteine prevents ketamine’s adverse effects on development and monoaminergic neurons in zebrafish embryos. The effects of ketamine and N-acetylcysteine alone or in combination were measured on the heart rate, body length, brain serotonergic neurons and tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive (TH-IR) neurons. In the absence of N-acetylcysteine, a concentration of ketamine that produces an internal embryo exposure level comparable to human anesthetic plasma concentrations significantly reduced heart rate and body length and those effects were prevented by N-acetylcysteine co-treatment. Ketamine also reduced the areas occupied by serotonergic neurons in the brain, whereas N-acetylcysteine co-exposure counteracted this effect. TH-IR neurons in the embryo brain and TH-IR cells in the trunk were significantly reduced with ketamine treatment, but not in the presence of N-acetylcysteine. In our continued search for compounds that can prevent ketamine toxicity, this study using specific endpoints of developmental toxicity, cardiotoxicity and neurotoxicity, demonstrates protective effects of N-acetylcysteine against ketamine’s adverse effects. This is the first study that shows the protective effects of N-acetylcysteine on ketamine-induced developmental defects of monoaminergic neurons as observed in a whole organism.

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