Clinical surgical practices have found that children who undergo multiple anesthesia may have an increased risk of deficiencies in cognition and fine motor control. Here, we report that YT521-B homology domain family 1 (YTHDF1), a critical reader protein for N6-methyladenosine-modified mRNA, was significantly downregulated in the prefrontal cortex of young mice after multiple sevoflurane anesthesia exposures. Importantly, sevoflurane led to a decrease in protein synthesis in mouse cortical neurons that was fully rescued by YTHDF1, suggesting that anesthesia may affect early brain development by affecting m6A-dependent mRNA translation. Transcriptome-wide experiments showed that numerous mRNA targets related to synaptic functions in the prefrontal mouse cortex were associated with m6A methylation and YTHDF1. In particular, we found that synaptophysin, a critical presynaptic protein, was specifically modified by m6A methylation and associated with YTHDF1, and m6A methylation of synaptophysin decreased with multiple sevoflurane exposures. Importantly, we showed that fine motor control skills and cognitive functions were impaired in mice with multiple anesthesia exposures, and these effects were fully reversed by reintroducing YTHDF1 through a blood-brain barrier (BBB)-crossing viral delivery system. Finally, we found that the fine motor skills in children who underwent prolonged anesthesia were compromised 6 months after surgery. Our findings indicated that impairment in the translational regulation of mRNA via N6-methyladenosine methylation is a potential mechanism underlying the effects of anesthesia on neural development in the young brain.

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