study makes major discovery on neurotoxic impact of anesthesia

Over the last decade, medical professionals, neuroscientists and officials with the Food and Drug Administration have expressed concerns over the use of general anesthesia for pediatric patients. That’s because multiple research efforts have definitively linked its use to increased brain cell death, as well as both learning and memory impairment.

While these contraindications were thought to be limited to pediatric patients, a recently published study in the Annals of Neurology by researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center reveals that adult patients may also be subject to similar risks.

In a series of laboratory experiments on newborn, juvenile and adult mice, the researchers discovered that the neurotoxic impact of general anesthesia may not necessarily depend on the age of a patient but rather on the age of the patient’s neurons.

“We demonstrate that anesthesia-induced cell death in neurons is not limited to the immature brain, as previously believed,” said Dr. Andreas Loepke, one of the primary authors of the study. “Instead, vulnerability seems to target neurons of a certain age and maturational stage. This finding brings us a step closer to understanding the phenomenon’s underlying mechanism.”

In the lab tests on the newborn, juvenile and adult mice, the researchers administered doses to each age group in a proportion similar to those used in standard surgical procedures. Here, they found that significant cell death occurred in the respective regions of the brain in which the most neurons were produced — in the forebrain structures of the youngest mice and in dentate gyrus of the older mice.

While the researchers suggested that their findings could have serious implications for the millions of pediatric and adult patients who undergo surgical procedures every year, they also cautioned that some restraint must obviously be shown concerning the overall use of anesthesia.

“Surgery is often vital to save lives or maintain quality of life and usually cannot be performed without general anesthesia,” said Loepke. “Physicians should carefully discuss with patients, parents and caretakers the risks and benefits of procedures requiring anesthetics, as well as the known risks of not treating certain conditions.”

The researchers have indicated that they will use their findings on anesthesia and brain chemistry to help further research into possible protective therapeutic strategies.

Please visit our website to learn more if you or a family member has been injured by an anesthesia errors or other form of medical malpractice.

Source: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, “Study expands concerns about anesthesia’s impact on the brain,” June 5, 2013

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