Concerns have risen regarding the potential side effects of clinical exposure of the pediatric population to inhalational anesthetics, and how they might impact cognitive, learning, and memory functions. However, neither the mechanisms of anesthetic cytotoxicity, nor potential protective strategies, have yet been fully explored. In this study, we examined whether two of the most commonly used inhalational anesthetics, sevoflurane and desflurane, affect neuronal viability and synaptic network assembly between cultured rat cortical neurons.


Primary rat cortical neuron cultures were exposed to equipotent sevoflurane or desflurane for 1 hour. Neuron viability, synaptic protein expression, mitochondrial morphology, and neurite growth were assayed with immunostaining and confocal microscopy techniques. The effects of anesthetics on the functional development of neural networks were evaluated with whole-cell patch clamp recordings of spontaneous synaptic currents. Our results demonstrate that an acute exposure to sevoflurane and desflurane inhibits the development of neurite processes, impacts the mitochondria, and compromises synaptic proteins – concomitant with a reduction in synaptic function in mature networks. Interestingly, pretreatment of neurons with a mitochondrial division inhibitor (Mdivi-1) not only protected mitochondria integrity but also played a protective role against anesthetic-induced structural and functional neurotoxicity.


We show that Mdivi-1 likely plays a protective role against certain harmful effects of general anesthetics on primary rat neuronal cultures. In addition, Mdivi-1 alone plays a direct role in enhancing growth and modulating synaptic activity. This study highlights the importance of further study into possible protective agents against anesthetic neurotoxicity.

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