Transient effects of anesthetics on dendritic spines and filopodia in the living mouse cortex

Anesthesiology. 2011 Oct;115(4):718-26. doi: 10.1097/ALN.0b013e318229a660.


Background: Anesthetics are widely used to induce unconsciousness, pain relief, and immobility during surgery. It remains unclear whether the use of anesthetics has significant and long-lasting effects on synapse development and plasticity in the brain. To address this question, the authors examined the formation and elimination of dendritic spines, postsynaptic sites of excitatory synapses, in the developing mouse cortex during and after anesthetics exposure.

Methods: Transgenic mice expressing yellow fluorescence protein in layer 5 pyramidal neurons were used in this study. Mice at 1 month of age underwent ketamine-xylazine and isoflurane anesthesia over a period of hours. The elimination and formation rates of dendritic spines and filopodia, the precursors of spines, were followed over hours to days in the primary somatosensory cortex using transcranial two-photon microscopy. Four to five animals were examined under each experimental condition. Student t test and Mann-Whitney U test were used to analyze the data.

Results: Administration of either ketamine-xylazine or isoflurane rapidly altered dendritic filopodial dynamics but had no significant effects on spine dynamics. Ketamine-xylazine increased filopodial formation whereas isoflurane decreased filopodial elimination during 4 h of anesthesia. Both effects were transient and disappeared within a day after the animals woke up.

Conclusion: Studies suggest that exposure to anesthetics transiently affects the dynamics of dendritic filopodia but has no significant effect on dendritic spine development and plasticity in the cortex of 1-month-old mice.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics / pharmacology*
  • Anesthetics, Dissociative / pharmacology
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / pharmacology
  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects*
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development
  • Dendritic Spines / drug effects*
  • Dendritic Spines / ultrastructure
  • Dizocilpine Maleate / pharmacology
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Isoflurane / pharmacology
  • Ketamine / pharmacology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Pseudopodia / drug effects*
  • Pseudopodia / ultrastructure
  • Pyramidal Cells / drug effects
  • Pyramidal Cells / ultrastructure
  • Somatosensory Cortex / cytology
  • Somatosensory Cortex / drug effects
  • Somatosensory Cortex / growth & development
  • Xylazine / pharmacology


  • Anesthetics
  • Anesthetics, Dissociative
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation
  • Excitatory Amino Acid Antagonists
  • Xylazine
  • Ketamine
  • Dizocilpine Maleate
  • Isoflurane