Direct neurotoxicity of tetracaine on growth cones and neurites of growing neurons in vitro

Anesthesiology. 2001 Sep;95(3):726-33. doi: 10.1097/00000542-200109000-00027.


Background: Local anesthetics have direct neurotoxicity on neurons. However, precise morphologic changes induced by the direct application of local anesthetics to neurons have not yet been fully understood. Also, despite the fact that local anesthetics are sometimes applied to the sites where peripheral nerves may be regenerating after injury, the effects of local anesthetics on growing or regenerating neurons have never been studied.

Methods: Three different neuronal tissues (dorsal root ganglion, retinal ganglion cell layer, and sympathetic ganglion chain) were isolated from an age-matched chick embryo and cultured for 20 h. Effects of tetracaine were examined microscopically and by a quantitative morphologic assay, growth cone collapse assay.

Results: Tetracaine induced growth cone collapse and neurite destruction. Three neuronal tissues showed significantly different dose-response, both at 60 min and at 24 h after the application of tetracaine (P < 0.01). The ED50 values (mean +/- SD) at 60 min were 1.53+/-1.05 mM in dorsal root ganglion, 0.15+/-0.05 mM in retinal, and 0.06+/-0.02 mM in sympathetic ganglion chain cultures. The ED50 values at 24 h were 0.43+/-0.15 mM in dorsal root ganglion, 0.07+/-0.03 mM in retinal, and 0.02+/-0.01 mM in sympathetic ganglion chain cultures. Concentration of nerve growth factor in the culture media did not influence the ED50 values. The growth cone collapsing effect was partially reversible in dorsal root ganglion and retinal neurons. However, in the sympathetic ganglion culture, no reversibility was observed after exposure to 1 mM tetracaine for 10 or for 60 min. Bupivacaine had similar neurotoxicity to the three types of growing neurons. (The ED50 values at 60 min were 2.32+/-0.50 mM in dorsal root ganglion, 0.96+/-0.16 mM in retinal, and 0.18+/-0.05 mM in sympathetic ganglion chain cultures. The ED50 values at 24 h were 0.34+/-0.09 mM in dorsal root ganglion, 0.21+/-0.06 mM in retinal, and 0.45+/-0.10 mM in sympathetic ganglion chain cultures.)

Conclusions: Short-term exposure to tetracaine produced irreversible changes in growing neurons. Growth cones were quickly affected, and neurites degenerated subsequently. Sensitivity varied with neuronal type and was not influenced by the concentration of nerve growth factor. Because a similar phenomenon was observed after exposure to bupivacaine, the toxicity to growing neurons may not be unique to tetracaine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics, Local / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Bupivacaine / toxicity
  • Chick Embryo
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Neurites / drug effects*
  • Neurites / pathology
  • Tetracaine / toxicity*
  • Time Factors


  • Anesthetics, Local
  • Tetracaine
  • Bupivacaine