Studies in animal models have revealed that long exposures to anesthetics can induce apoptosis in the newborn and young developing brain. These effects have not been confirmed in humans because of the lack of a non-invasive, practical in vivo imaging tool with the ability to detect these changes. Following the successful use of ultrasound backscatter spectroscopy (UBS) to monitor in vivo cell death in breast tumors, we aimed to use UBS to assess the neurotoxicity of the anesthetic sevoflurane (SEVO) in a non-human primate (NHP) model. Sixteen 2- to 7-day-old rhesus macaques were exposed for 5 h to SEVO. Ultrasound scanning was done with a phased array transducer on a clinical ultrasound scanner operated at 10 MHz. Data consisting of 10-15 frames of radiofrequency (RF) echo signals from coronal views of the thalamus were obtained 0.5 and 6.0 h after initiating exposure. The UBS parameter “effective scatterer size” (ESS) was estimated by fitting a scattering form factor (FF) model to the FF measured from RF echo signals. The approach involved analyzing the frequency dependence of the measured FF to characterize scattering sources and selecting the FF model based on a χ2 goodness-of-fit criterion. To assess data quality, a rigorous acceptance criterion based on the analysis of prevalence of diffuse scattering (an assumption in the estimation of ESS) was established. ESS changes after exposure to SEVO were compared with changes in a control group of five primates for which ultrasound data were acquired at 0 and 10 min (no apoptosis expected). Over the entire data set, the average measured FF at 0.5 and 6.0 h monotonically decreased with frequency, justifying fitting a single FF over the analysis bandwidth. χ2 values of a (inhomogeneous continuum) Gaussian FF model were one-fifth those of the discrete fluid sphere model, suggesting that a continuum scatterer model better represents ultrasound scattering in the young rhesus brain. After application of the data quality criterion, only 5 of 16 subjects from the apoptotic group and 5 of 5 subjects from the control group fulfilled the acceptance criteria. All subjects in the apoptotic group that passed the acceptance criterion exhibited a significant ESS reduction at 6.0 h. These changes (-6.4%, 95% Interquartile Range: -14.3% to -3.3%) were larger than those in the control group (-0.8%, 95% Interquartile Range: -2.0% to 1.5%]). Data with a low prevalence of diffuse scattering corresponded to possibly biased results. Thus, ESS has the potential to detect changes in brain microstructure related to anesthesia-induced apoptosis.

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