The Effects of Anesthetics and Sedatives on the Developing Brain

Anesthetics and sedatives provide unconsciousness to facilitate life-saving and quality of life-improving surgical procedures and stress relief in emergency and intensive care for millions of children every year. In addition to rendering patients insensible to painful stimuli, these compounds affect a wide variety of cellular receptors, ion channels, and intracellular messaging systems which may have beneficial, as well as unwanted, effects. Accordingly, our laboratory examines the effects of anesthetics and sedatives on the developing brain.


Complex surgical procedures, such as neurosurgery, abdominal surgery, or surgery to repair complex congenital heart disease, may expose infants to hemodynamic instability and periods of inadequate supply of oxygen and blood flow (hypoxia-ischemia) to their immature brains. Similar conditions may arise during emergent deliveries for fetal distress, potentially resulting in brain damage and long-term developmental abnormalities. Our research efforts are directed toward improving the detection of hypoxic and hypoxic-ischemic episodes using noninvasive techniques, to identify the mechanisms of hypoxic and hypoxic-ischemic brain injury, and to mitigate neurological injury and improve subsequent neurocognitive outcomes.


Mounting evidence from animal studies has implicated all commonly used anesthetics and sedatives to induce widespread neuronal cell death, resulting in long-term neurological abnormalities under certain conditions. This undesirable pharmacological imprint has raised serious concerns regarding the safe use of these medications in young children.

Our research sets out to clarify the underlying mechanisms of anesthesia-induced neurotoxicity and the selectivity of the phenomenon, which will be critical for assessing its human relevance, and if necessary, for discovering mitigating therapies. Moreover, our preclinical research aims to identify biomarkers of anesthesia-induced developmental neuroapoptosis. Our clinical research efforts are directed toward examining the phenomenon’s human applicability using non-invasive imaging technology. Our translational research is seeking alternative anesthetic techniques to improve the safety of pediatric anesthesia.