The cation-chloride cotransporters Na+-K+-2Cl-1 (NKCC1) and K+-2Cl-2 (KCC2) critically regulate neuronal responses to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). NKCC1 renders GABA excitatory in immature neurons while expression of KCC2 signals GABA maturation to its inhibitory role. Imbalances in NKCC1/KCC2 alter GABA neurotransmission, which may contribute to hyperexcitability and blunted inhibition in neurocircuitry after neonatal exposure to anesthesia. Thus, we hypothesized that anesthetics may dysregulate NKCC1 and/or KCC2 in developing brain. We exposed postnatal day (PND) 7 mice to sevoflurane or carrier gases and assessed NKCC1 and KCC2 expression across three brain regions 6 h and 24 h after initial exposure. To test differences in behavior, we challenged pups receiving sevoflurane or carrier gases on PND7 with propofol on PND8 and recorded parameters of anesthesia induction and maintenance. Sevoflurane exposure increased cortical NKCC1 at 6 h (p = 0.03) and decreased cortical and hippocampal KCC2 at 24 h (p = 0.009 and p = 0.007, respectively). NKCC1/KCC2 ratio was significantly increased at both 6 h (p = 0.02) and 24 h (p = 0.03) in cortex and at 24 h (p = 0.02) in hippocampus. After propofol challenge on PND8, pups previously exposed to sevoflurane on PND7 regained righting reflex significantly faster than their non-exposed cohort (p < 0.001). Disturbing NKCC1/KCC2 balance may underlie circuit hyperexcitability and contribute to neurodevelopmental impairments we have observed in previous studies of neonatal anesthesia exposure. Human infants previously exposed to anesthesia may require higher concentrations of anesthetic drugs, potentially compounding their susceptibility for neurodevelopmental sequalae.

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