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Clinical Research Into Anesthetic Neurotoxicity: Does Anesthesia Cause Neurological Abnormalities in Humans?

Lei, Susan Y. MD*; Hache, Manon MD*; Loepke, Andreas W. MD, PhD†,‡

Journal of Neurosurgical Anesthesiology: October 2014 - Volume 26 - Issue 4 - p 349–357
doi: 10.1097/ANA.0000000000000117
Departments: Supplement: Fourth Pediatric Anesthesia and Neuro-Development Assessment (PANDA) Symposium

General anesthetics mitigate distress and exaggerated hemodynamic responses to pain and stressful stimulation, allowing surgery and diagnostic procedures to be performed worldwide in millions of children every year. Emerging studies, mainly carried out in early postnatal laboratory animals, demonstrate widespread neuronal elimination, alteration in neuronal circuitry, and long-term neurological disabilities following exposure to all commonly used sedatives and anesthetics. These findings have raised concerns among parents, anesthesiologists, neuroscientists, and government regulators about the safety of anesthetic drugs in children, especially infants. Accumulating evidence from epidemiological studies suggests an association between surgery with anesthesia in early childhood and subsequent behavioral and cognitive abnormalities. During the Fourth Pediatric Anesthesia NeuroDevelopmental Assessment (PANDA) symposium, a meeting attended by many stakeholders, the most recent findings in the field were presented and discussed. This review summarizes the current state of clinical research into the effects of anesthetic exposure in human brain development, addresses some of the difficulties in examining the phenomenon, and introduces the most recent clinical findings presented at the PANDA symposium. The unanimous consensus among participants was that additional preclinical and clinical research efforts are urgently required to address this important concern for child health.

*Department of Anesthesiology, Columbia University Medical Center, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY

Departments of Anesthesology and Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

Department of Anesthesiology, Division of Pediatric Cardiac Anesthesia, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH

The authors have no funding or conflicts of interest to disclose.

Reprints: Andreas W. Loepke, MD, PhD, Department of Anesthesiology, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, 3333 Burnet Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45229 (e-mail:

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins