Noninvasive Tracking of Anesthesia Neurotoxicity in the Developing Rodent Brain

Anesthesiology. 2018 Jul;129(1):118-130. doi: 10.1097/ALN.0000000000002229.


Background: Potential deleterious effect of multiple anesthesia exposures on the developing brain remains a clinical concern. We hypothesized that multiple neonatal anesthesia exposures are more detrimental to brain maturation than an equivalent single exposure, with more pronounced long-term behavioral consequences. We designed a translational approach using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy in rodents, noninvasively tracking the neuronal marker N-acetyl-aspartate, in addition to tracking behavioral outcomes.

Methods: Trajectories of N-acetyl-aspartate in anesthesia naïve rats (n = 62, postnatal day 5 to 35) were determined using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, creating an "N-acetyl-aspartate growth chart." This chart was used to compare the effects of a single 6-h sevoflurane exposure (postnatal day 7) to three 2-h exposures (postnatal days 5, 7, 10). Long-term effects on behavior were separately examined utilizing novel object recognition, open field testing, and Barnes maze tasks.

Results: Utilizing the N-acetyl-aspartate growth chart, deviations from the normal trajectory were documented in both single and multiple exposure groups, with z-scores (mean ± SD) of -0.80 ± 0.58 (P = 0.003) and -1.87 ± 0.58 (P = 0.002), respectively. Behavioral testing revealed that, in comparison with unexposed and single-exposed, multiple-exposed animals spent the least time with the novel object in novel object recognition (F(2,44) = 4.65, P = 0.015), traveled the least distance in open field testing (F(2,57) = 4.44, P = 0.016), but exhibited no learning deficits in the Barnes maze.

Conclusions: Our data demonstrate the feasibility of using the biomarker N-acetyl-aspartate, measured noninvasively using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, for longitudinally monitoring anesthesia-induced neurotoxicity. These results also indicate that the neonatal rodent brain is more vulnerable to multiple anesthesia exposures than to a single exposure of the same cumulative duration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / administration & dosage
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / metabolism*
  • Anesthetics, Inhalation / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Aspartic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Aspartic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Aspartic Acid / metabolism
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Cell Tracking / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy / methods*
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sevoflurane / administration & dosage
  • Sevoflurane / metabolism
  • Sevoflurane / toxicity


  • Anesthetics, Inhalation
  • Aspartic Acid
  • Sevoflurane
  • N-acetylaspartate