There is concern that clinical use of anesthetic drugs may cause neurotoxicity in the developing brain and subsequent abnormal neurobehavior. We therefore evaluated neurotoxic effects of inhalation anesthetics in the neonatal rat brain, using in vivo histological and neurobehavioral outcomes. Wistar rats (n=79, postnatal day 15) were subjected to a clinically relevant single exposure of urethane, isoflurane, sevoflurane, or placebo, without surgery. At 48 h and 96 h, behavioral parameters were recorded and the animals were sacrificed. In cryosectioned brains, total cells and dying cells in layer II of the piriform cortex were counted using unbiased stereology. At 48 h, cell numbers in layer II of the piriform cortex of all drug-treated animals were reduced versus controls (p=0.01). The effect persisted at 96 h in isoflurane- and urethane-exposed animals. Piriform cortical layer II neurons undergoing degeneration, detected histologically by pyknotic nuclei and eosinophilic cytoplasm, were increased in the animals treated with isoflurane (1.9 ± 0.7 at 96 h) and urethane (2.4 ± 0.8 at 96 h) versus sevoflurane (0.8 ± 0.3 at 96 h) and controls (0.9 ± 0.2 at 96 h). Sevoflurane- and isoflurane-treated animals exhibited increased activity and decreased suckling compared with controls, and sevoflurane-exposed animals also displayed increased rearing behavior at both timepoints.

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