Accumulating evidence suggests long-lasting impairments in brain development and cognition caused by neonatal exposure to general anesthetics. To date, very little is known about potential abnormal psychiatric manifestations attributable to neonatal anesthesia. In this study, we used ketamine to induce anesthesia in neonatal mice. By applying mild stressors one day before behavioral tests, we found that adult mice exhibit significant anxiety-like behaviors that were indistinguishable at basal level. Recruitment of AMPA (a-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid) type glutamate receptors into silent synapses is a prominent cellular process during neonatal neurodevelopment. We found that exposure to ketamine significantly disrupted synapse unsilencing, and impaired the expression of unsilencing-mediated long-term potentiation (LTP). Pharmacologically enhancement of neural activities by AMPAkine drug CX546 [1-(1,4-benzodioxan-6-ylcarbonyl) piperidine] effectively rescued disrupted developmental synapse unsilencing and LTP at neonatal age, and prevented stressor-evoked anxiety-like behaviors in adult mice. Together, our results indicate that neonatal exposure to ketamine may predispose individuals for psychiatric conditions via disrupting synapse unsilencing, and potentiation of neural activities during the anesthesia-recovery period may be an effective approach to manage adverse effects on brain development. This article is part of the special issue on ‘Stress, Addiction and Plasticity’.