Epigenetic Manipulation of Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor Improves Memory Deficiency Induced by Neonatal Anesthesia in Rats

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Although neonatal exposure to anesthetic drugs is associated with memory deficiency in rodent models and possibly in pediatric patients, the underlying mechanisms remain elusive. The authors tested their hypothesis that exposure of the developing brain to anesthesia triggers epigenetic modification, involving the enhanced interaction among transcription factors (histone deacetylase 2, methyl-cytosine-phosphate-guanine–binding protein 2, and DNA methyltransferase 1) in Bdnf promoter region(s) that inhibit brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression, resulting in insufficient drive for local translation of synaptic mRNAs. The authors further hypothesized that noninvasive environmental enrichment (EE) will attenuate anesthesia-induced epigenetic inhibition of BDNF signaling and memory loss in rodent models.


Seven days after birth (P7), neonatal rats were randomly assigned to receive either isoflurane anesthesia for 6 h or sham anesthesia. On P21, pups were weaned, and animals were randomly assigned to EE or a standard cage environment (no EE). Behavioral, molecular, and electrophysiological studies were performed on rats on P65.


The authors found a substantial reduction of hippocampal BDNF (n = 6 to 7) resulting from the transcriptional factors–mediated epigenetic modification in the promoter region of Bdnf exon IV in rats exposed postnatally to anesthetic drugs. This BDNF reduction led to the insufficient drive for the synthesis of synaptic proteins (n = 6 to 8), thus contributing to the hippocampal synaptic (n = 8 to 11) and cognitive dysfunction (n = 10) induced by neonatal anesthesia. These effects were mitigated by the exposure to an enriched environment.


The findings of this study elucidated the epigenetic mechanism underlying memory deficiency induced by neonatal anesthesia and propose EE as a potential therapeutic approach.

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