There is concern that maternal anesthesia during pregnancy impairs brain development of the human fetus. Xenon is neuroprotective in pre-clinical models of anesthesia-induced neurotoxicity in neonates. It is not known if xenon also protects the developing fetal brain when administered in addition to maternal sevoflurane-anesthesia during pregnancy.


To investigate the effects of sevoflurane and xenon on neurobehaviour and neurodevelopment of the offspring in a pregnant rabbit model.


Pregnant rabbits on post-conception day 28 (term = 31d) underwent two hours of general anesthesia with 1 minimum alveolar concentration (MAC) of sevoflurane in 30% oxygen (n = 17) or 1 MAC sevoflurane plus 50-60 % xenon in 30% oxygen (n = 10) during a standardized laparotomy while receiving physiological monitoring. A sham-group (n = 11) underwent monitoring alone for two hours. At term, the rabbits were delivered by caesarean section. On the first postnatal day, neonatal rabbits underwent neurobehavioral assessment using a validated test battery. Following euthanasia, the brains were harvested for neurohistological analysis. A mixed effects-model was used for statistical analysis.


Maternal cardiopulmonary parameters during anesthesia were within the reference range. Fetal survival rates were significantly higher in the sham-group as compared to the sevoflurane-group and the fetal brain/body weight ratio was significantly lower in the sevoflurane-group as compared with the sham- and xenon-group. Pups antenatally exposed to anesthesia had significantly lower motor and sensory neurobehavioral scores when compared to the sham-group (mean ± SD; sevo: 22.70 ± 3.50 vs. sevo+xenon: 22.74 ± 3.15 vs. sham: 24.37 ± 1.59; overall p = 0.003; sevo: 14.98 ± 3.00 vs. sevo+xenon: 14.80 ± 2.83 vs. sham: 16.43 ± 2.63; overall p = 0.006; respectively). Neuron density, neuronal proliferation and synaptic density were reduced in multiple brain regions of the exposed neonates. The co-administration of xenon had no measurable neuroprotective effects in this model.


In rabbits, sevoflurane anesthesia for a standardized laparotomy during pregnancy resulted in impaired neonatal neurobehavior and a decreased neuron count in several regions of the neonatal rabbit brain. Co-administration of xenon did not prevent this effect.


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