Spinal anesthesia in infant rats: development of a model and assessment of neurologic outcomes

Anesthesiology. 2011 Jun;114(6):1325-35. doi: 10.1097/ALN.0b013e31821b5729.


Background: Previous studies in infant rats and case-control studies of human infants undergoing surgery have raised concerns about potential neurodevelopmental toxicities of general anesthesia. Spinal anesthesia is an alternative to general anesthesia for some infant surgeries. To test for potential toxicity, a spinal anesthesia model in infant rats was developed.

Methods: Rats of postnatal ages 7, 14, and 21 days were assigned to no treatment, 1% isoflurane for either 1 h or 6 h, or lumbar spinal injection of saline or bupivacaine at doses of 3.75 mg/kg (low dose) or 7.5 mg/kg (high dose). Subgroups of animals underwent neurobehavioral testing and blood gas analysis. Brain and lumbar spinal cord sections were examined for apoptosis using cleaved caspase-3 immunostaining. The lumbar spinal cord was examined histologically.Rats exposed to spinal or general anesthesia as infants underwent Rotarod testing of motor performance as adults. Data were analyzed using ANOVA with general linear models, Friedman tests, and Mann-Whitney U tests, as appropriate.

Results: Bupivacaine 3.75 mg/kg was effective for spinal anesthesia in all age groups. Impairments in sensory and motor function recovered in 40-60 min. Blood gases were similar among groups. Brain and spinal cord apoptosis increased in rats receiving 6 h of 1% isoflurane, but not among the other treatments. All groups showed intact motor performance at adulthood.

Conclusions: Spinal anesthesia is technically feasible in infant rats and appears benign in terms of neuroapoptotic and neuromotor sequelae.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, Spinal / adverse effects*
  • Anesthesia, Spinal / methods
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Blood Gas Analysis / methods
  • Bupivacaine / administration & dosage
  • Bupivacaine / adverse effects*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Female
  • Isoflurane / administration & dosage
  • Isoflurane / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Isoflurane
  • Bupivacaine