Abstract

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is frequently used for short anesthesia/analgesia in children undergoing painful or repetitive procedures. Children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) require repeated lumbar punctures with direct instillation of intrathecal chemotherapy, usually the anti‚Äźfolate agent methotrexate, during their treatment. These procedures are frequently performed under anesthesia. Concerns have been intermittently raised about a drug interaction between methotrexate and N2O that may potentiate the undesirable side effects of methotrexate, including neurotoxicity. However, the clinical evidence consists mainly of isolated case reports leading to a lack of consensus among pediatric anesthetists about the relative risk benefits of using N2O in children with ALL. In this article, we review the biochemical basis and scientific observations that suggest a significant interaction between N2O and methotrexate due to their dual inhibition of the key enzyme methionine synthase. The possible role of this interaction in potentiating neurotoxicity in children with cancer is discussed, and arguments and counterarguments about the clinical significance of this largely theoretical relationship are explored. Following comprehensive review of all the available data, we make the case for the circumstantial evidence being sufficiently compelling to prompt a review of practice by pediatric anesthetists and call for a precautionary approach by avoiding the use of N2O in children receiving concurrent methotrexate.

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