Background: The volatile anaesthetic sevoflurane induces time (single or multiple exposures)-dependent effects on tau phosphorylation and cognitive function in young mice. The underlying mechanism for this remains largely undetermined.

Methods: Mice received 3% sevoflurane for 0.5 h or 2 h daily for 3 days on postnatal day (P) 6, 9, and 12. Another group of mice received 3% sevoflurane for 0.5 h or 1.5 h (3 × 0.5) on P6. We investigated effects of sevoflurane anaesthesia on tau phosphorylation on P6 or P12 mice, on cognitive function from P31 to P37, and on protein interactions, using in vivo studies, in vitro phosphorylation assays, and nanobeam single-molecule level interactions in vitro.

Results: An initial sevoflurane exposure induced CaMKIIα phosphorylation (132 [11]% vs 100 [6]%, P<0.01), leading to tau phosphorylation at serine 262 (164 [7]% vs 100 [26]%, P<0.01) and tau detachment from microtubules. Subsequent exposures to the sevoflurane induced GSK3β activation, which phosphorylated detached or free tau (tau phosphorylated at serine 262) at serine 202 and threonine 205, resulting in cognitive impairment in young mice. In vitro phosphorylation assays also demonstrated sequential tau phosphorylation. Nanobeam analysis of molecular interactions showed different interactions between tau or free tau and CaMKIIα or GSK3β, and between tau and tubulin at a single-molecule level.

Conclusions: Multiple exposures to sevoflurane can induce sequential tau phosphorylation, leading to cognitive impairment in young mice, highlighting the need to investigate the underlying mechanisms of anaesthesia-induced tau phosphorylation in developing brain.

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Feng Liang et al.
British Journal of Anaesthesia August 2023