Fifteen years ago Olney and colleagues began using animal models to evaluate the effects of anesthetic and sedative agents (ASAs) on neurodevelopment. The results from ongoing studies indicate that, under certain conditions, exposure to these drugs during development induces an acute elevated apoptotic neurodegenerative response in the brain and long-term functional impairments. These animal models have played a significant role in bringing attention to the possible adverse effects of exposing the developing brain to ASAs when few concerns had been raised previously in the medical community. The apoptotic degenerative response resulting from neonatal exposure to ASAs has been replicated in many studies in both rodents and non-human primates, suggesting that a similar effect may occur in humans. In both rodents and non-human primates, significantly increased levels of apoptotic degeneration are often associated with functional impairments later in life. However, behavioral deficits following developmental ASA exposure have not been consistently reported even when significantly elevated levels of apoptotic degeneration have been documented in animal models. In the present work, we review this literature and propose a rodent model for assessing potential functional deficits following neonatal ASA exposure with special reference to experimental design and procedural issues. Our intent is to improve test sensitivity and replicability for detecting subtle behavioral effects, and thus enhance the translational significance of ASA models.

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