Severity of locomotor and cardiovascular derangements after experimental high-thoracic spinal cord injury is anesthesia dependent in rats

J Neurotrauma. 2012 Mar 20;29(5):990-9. doi: 10.1089/neu.2011.1845. Epub 2011 Aug 8.


Anesthetics affect outcomes from central nervous system (CNS) injuries differently. This is the first study to show how two commonly used anesthetics affect continuously recorded hemodynamic parameters and locomotor recovery during a 2-week period after two levels of contusion spinal cord injury (SCI) in rats. We hypothesized that the level of cardiovascular depression and recovery of locomotor function would be dependent upon the anesthetic used during SCI. Thirty-two adult female rats were subjected to a sham, 25-mm or 50-mm SCI at T3-4 under pentobarbital or isoflurane anesthesia. Mean arterial pressure (MAP) and heart rate (HR) were telemetrically recorded before, during, and after SCI. Locomotor function recovered best in the 25-mm-injured isoflurane-anesthetized animals. There was no significant difference in locomotor recovery between the 25-mm-injured pentobarbital-anesthetized animals and the 50-mm-injured isoflurane-anesthetized animals. White matter sparing and extent of intermediolateral cell column loss appeared larger in animals anesthetized with pentobarbital, but this was not significant. There were no differential effects of anesthetics on HR and MAP before SCI, but recovery from anesthesia was significantly slower in pentobarbital-anesthetized animals. At the time of SCI, MAP was acutely elevated in the pentobarbital-anesthetized animals, whereas MAP decreased in the isoflurane-anesthetized animals. Hypotension occurred in the pentobarbital-anesthetized groups and in the 50-mm-injured isoflurane-anesthetized group. In pentobarbital-anesthetized animals, SCI resulted in acute elevation of HR, although HR remained low. Return of HR to baseline was much slower in the pentobarbital-anesthetized animals. Severe SCI at T3 produced significant chronic tachycardia that was injury severity dependent. Although some laboratories monitor blood pressure, HR, and other physiological variables during surgery for SCI, inherently few have monitored cardiovascular function during recovery. This study shows that anesthetics affect hemodynamic parameters differently, which in turn can affect functional outcome measures. This supports the need for a careful evaluation of cardiovascular and other physiological measures in experimental models of SCI. Choice of anesthetic should be an important consideration in experimental designs and data analyses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Cardiovascular System / drug effects
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Hemodynamics / drug effects*
  • Isoflurane / toxicity*
  • Motor Activity
  • Pentobarbital / toxicity*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Recovery of Function / drug effects
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Thoracic Vertebrae


  • Anesthetics
  • Isoflurane
  • Pentobarbital