How can anesthetics affect the brains of children?

"Anesthetic neurotoxicity is not just a topic of interest to anesthesiologists and researchers; it is now considered a public health concern, having attracted the attention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the population at large. The molecular mechanisms linking anesthetic exposure and neuron cell death must be identified for this phenomenon to be prevented.

Multiple animal studies have demonstrated that anesthetic exposure during a critical period of synaptogenesis causes cell death in the brains of young rodents and nonhuman primates; these animals demonstrate deficits in learning and memory later in life. How these findings translate to humans is still unclear. Retrospective analyses of select pediatric populations have suggested that children with multiple anesthetic exposures have an increased likelihood of developing learning disabilities and behavioral problems. However, the retrospective nature of these studies, which contain many confounding factors, makes it impossible to assign causality." (Katherine R. Gentry, MD, et al., "Early Developmental Exposure to Volatile Anesthetics Causes Behavioral Defects in Caenorhabditis elegans," Anesthesia & Analgesia, January 2013, pp. 185-189.)

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