BACKGROUND: Volatile anesthetics cause widespread apoptosis in the developing brain. Carbon monoxide (CO) has antiapoptotic properties, and exhaled endogenous CO is commonly rebreathed during low-flow anesthesia in infants and children, resulting in subclinical CO exposure. Thus, we aimed to determine whether CO could limit isoflurane-induced apoptosis in the developing brain.
METHODS: Seven-day-old male CD-1 mouse pups underwent 1-hour exposure to 0 (air), 5, or 100 ppm CO in air with or without isoflurane (2%). We assessed carboxyhemoglobin levels, cytochrome c peroxidase activity, and cytochrome c release from forebrain mitochondria after exposure and quantified the number of activated caspase-3 positive cells and TUNEL positive nuclei in neocortex, hippocampus, and hypothalamus/thalamus.
RESULTS: Carboxyhemoglobin levels approximated those expected in humans after a similar time-weighted CO exposure. Isoflurane significantly increased cytochrome c peroxidase activity, cytochrome c release, the number of activated caspase-3 cells, and TUNEL positive nuclei in the forebrain of air-exposed mice. CO, however, abrogated isoflurane-induced cytochrome c peroxidase activation and cytochrome c release from forebrain mitochondria and decreased the number of activated caspase-3 positive cells and TUNEL positive nuclei after simultaneous exposure with isoflurane.
CONCLUSIONS: Taken together, the data indicate that CO can limit apoptosis after isoflurane exposure via inhibition of cytochrome c peroxidase depending on concentration. Although it is unknown whether CO directly inhibited isoflurane-induced apoptosis, it is possible that low-flow anesthesia designed to target rebreathing of specific concentrations of CO may be a desired strategy to develop in the future in an effort to prevent anesthesia-induced neurotoxicity in infants and children.