Background: Anesthesia during the synaptogenic period induces dendritic spine formation, which may affect neurodevelopment. The authors, therefore, evaluated whether changes in synaptic transmission after dendritic spine formation induced by sevoflurane were associated with long-term behavioral changes. The effects of sevoflurane on mitochondrial function were also assessed to further understand the mechanism behind spinogenesis.

Methods: Postnatal day 16 to 17 mice were exposed to sevoflurane (2.5% for 2 h), and synaptic transmission was measured in the medial prefrontal cortex 6 h or 5 days later. The expression of postsynaptic proteins and mitochondrial function were measured after anesthesia. Long-term behavioral changes were assessed in adult mice.

Results: Sevoflurane increased the expression of excitatory postsynaptic proteins in male and female mice (n = 3 to 5 per group). Sevoflurane exposure in male mice transiently increased miniature excitatory postsynaptic current frequency (control: 8.53 ± 2.87; sevoflurane: 11.09 ± 2.58) but decreased miniature inhibitory postsynaptic current frequency (control: 10.18 ± 4.66; sevoflurane: 6.88 ± 2.15). Unexpectedly, sevoflurane increased miniature inhibitory postsynaptic current frequency (control: 1.81 ± 1.11; sevoflurane: 3.56 ± 1.74) in female mice (neurons, n = 10 to 21 per group). Sevoflurane also increased mitochondrial respiration in male mice (n = 5 to 8 per group). However, such changes from anesthesia during the critical period did not induce long-term behavioral consequences. Values are presented as mean ± SD.

Conclusions: Sevoflurane exposure during the critical period induces mitochondrial hyperactivity and transient imbalance of excitatory/inhibitory synaptic transmission, without long-lasting behavioral consequences. Further studies are needed to confirm sexual differences and to define the role of mitochondrial activity during anesthesia-induced spine formation.