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Accumulating preclinical data indicate that neonatal exposure to general anaesthetics is detrimental to the central nervous system. Some studies, however, display potential protective effects of exactly the same anaesthetic agents on the immature brain. The effects of inhaled anaesthetics on the developing brain have received close attention from researchers, clinicians and the public in recent decades.To summarise the preclinical evidence reported in the last 5 years on both the deleterious effects and the neuroprotective potential in special indications, of inhaled anaesthetics on the developing brain.A systematic review.PubMed search performed in June 2013.Search terms included brain, development, inhaled anaesthetic, toxicity and protection within the scope of the last 5 years with animals. The reference lists of relevant articles and recent reviews were also hand-searched for additional studies. The type, dose and exposure duration of anaesthetics, species and age of animals, histopathologic indicators, outcomes and affected brain areas, neuro developmental test modules and outcomes, as well as other outcomes and comments were summarised.Two hundred and nineteen relevant titles were initially revealed. In total, 81 articles were identified, with 68 articles assessing the detrimental effects induced by inhaled anaesthetics in the immature brain along with possible treatments. The remaining 13 articles focused on the protective profile of inhaled anaesthetics on perinatal hypoxic-ischaemic brain injury. Administration of inhaled anaesthetic agents to the immature brain was shown to be deleterious in several preclinical studies. In perinatal hypoxic-ischaemic brain injury models, pre- and postconditioning of inhalational anaesthetics exerted neuroprotective effects.The majority of studies have linked inhaled anaesthetics to toxic effects in the neonatal brain of rodents, piglets and primates. Only a few studies, however, could demonstrate long-lasting cognitive impairment. The results of inhalational anaesthetic-induced neuroprotection in perinatal hypoxic-ischaemic brain injury are a promising basis for more research in this field. In general, prospective clinical trials are needed to further differentiate the effects of inhaled anaesthetics on the immature brain.