Several recent studies suggest that in the human population, a routine, short anesthetic in otherwise healthy infants is void of neurodevelopmental insult. On the other hand, many human retrospective epidemiological studies report evidence of cognitive abnormalities in children after testing those who had different anesthesia-requiring procedures in early childhood. We tested in a rat model whether post-anesthesia stressful environmental factors can contribute to developmental abnormalities that were initiated by a relatively short exposure to sevoflurane, the most widely used anesthetic in pediatric anesthesia, whose polyvalent actions include enhancement of gamma-aminobutyric acid type A receptor (GABAAR) activity. Postnatal day 6 (P6) male Sprague-Dawley rats were anesthetized with sevoflurane for 60min. To simulate subsequent stress, the animals were subjected to a single maternal separation for 180min at P10. To study the role of GABAAR-mediated depolarization, subgroups of P6 rats received a single injection of the Na+-K+-2Cl (NKCC1) inhibitor, bumetanide, prior to initiation of anesthesia with sevoflurane. Rats that were exposed to sevoflurane had decreased hypothalamic K+-2Cl (KCC2) mRNA level (F(2,13)=3.839, P=0.049), increased NKCC1/KCC2 mRNA ratio (F(2,13)=5.043, P=0.024) and increased corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) mRNA level (F(2,12)=9.450, P=0.003) at P10, the age at which maternal separation was imposed. Adult rats, neonatally exposed to a combination of sevoflurane and maternal separation, exhibited increases in the escape latencies greater than animals exposed to sevoflurane only (P=0.012), and only rats in the sevoflurane plus maternal separation group spent significantly less time in the target quadrant during the Morris water maze test (F(4,55)=4.856, P=0.002). Bumetanide ameliorated abnormalities induced by sevoflurane and a combination of sevoflurane plus maternal separation. Neonatal exposure to sevoflurane may sensitize to stressors later in life, and post-exposure stress may exacerbate neurodevelopmental abnormalities even after a relatively short exposure to sevoflurane in rodents. The NKCC1 downregulation prior to exposure to the anesthetic may be therapeutic.

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