Postoperative cognitive dysfunction is receiving increasing attention, particularly as it mainly affects the (growing) elderly population. Until recently, cognitive deficits after cardiac surgery were thought to be caused by physiological disturbances associated with the cardiopulmonary bypass technique. Although the technique of 'off-pump' coronary revascularisation may potentially be associated with improved outcome, long-term follow-up studies have failed to demonstrate a significant reduction in the incidence of postoperative cognitive dysfunction. The focus of research is thus shifting from cardiopulmonary bypass to other factors common to both techniques, such as surgery, anaesthesia and patient-related predisposing factors. Priming of the immune system by ageing and atherosclerosis may result in an exaggerated systemic and cerebral inflammatory response to cardiac surgery and anaesthesia, causing neuronal loss or dysfunction resulting in cognitive dysfunction. We briefly discuss the evidence for cardiopulmonary bypass-related neuronal injuries in adult cardiac surgery patients, and review the evidence that immune priming is a key factor in the pathogenesis of cognitive dysfunction after cardiac surgery.
Anaesthesia © 2012 The Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland.