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General Anesthetics in Pediatric Anesthesia: Influences on the Developing Brain

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Millions of newborn and infants receive anesthetic, sedative and analgesic drugs for surgery and painful procedures on a daily basis. However, recent laboratory reports clearly demonstrate that anesthetic and sedative drugs induced both neuroapoptosis and neurocognitive deficits in laboratory models. This issue is of paramount interest to pediatric anesthesiologists and intensivists because it questions the safety of anesthetics used for fetal and neonatal anesthesia. Most clinically utilized anesthetic drugs have been found to induce neuronal cell death in the developing brain and to potentially cause long-term neurological impairment. Conversely, painful stimuli without analgesia and anesthesia have been implicated in triggering neuro-apoptosis in juvenile mammalian models. Published retrospective reviews demonstrate temporary neurological sequelae after prolonged anesthetic exposure in young children and larger studies identify long-term neurodevelopmental impairment after neonatal surgery and anesthesia. This paper examines the evidence for the effects of commonly used anesthetics on neuronal structure and neurocognitive function in laboratory models and reviews the relevant clinical human epidemiologic data.

Keywords: Anesthesia; analgesic drugs; infants; neonate; neuroapoptosis; neurocognition; neurodevelopmental impairment; neuronal cell death; neurotoxicity; sedative

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Anesthesiology, Children’s Hospital Boston, 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts, USA 02115.

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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  • Current Drug Targets aims to cover the latest and most outstanding developments on the medicinal chemistry and pharmacology of molecular drug targets e.g. disease specific proteins, receptors, enzymes, genes. Each issue of the journal will be devoted to a single timely topic, with series of in-depth reviews, written by leaders in the field, covering a range of current topics on drug targets. These issues will be organized and led by a guest editor who is a recognized expert in the overall topic. As the discovery, identification, characterisation and validation of novel human drug targets for drug discovery continues to grow; this journal will be essential reading for all pharmaceutical scientists involved in drug discovery and development.

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