Effects of intrathecal ketamine in the neonatal rat: Evaluation of apoptosis and long-term functional outcome

Suellen M. Walker, B. David Westin, Ronald Deumens, Marjorie Grafe, Tony L. Yaksh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Background: Systemic ketamine can trigger apoptosis in the brain of rodents and primates during susceptible developmental periods. Clinically, spinally administered ketamine may improve the duration or quality of analgesia in children. Ketamine-induced spinal cord toxicity has been reported in adult animals but has not been systematically studied in early development. Methods: In anesthetized rat pups, intrathecal ketamine was administered by lumbar percutaneous injection. Changes in mechanical withdrawal threshold evaluated dose-dependent antinociceptive and carrageenan-induced antihyperalgesic effects in rat pups at postnatal day (P) 3 and 21. After intrathecal injection of ketamine at P3, 7, or 21, spinal cords were examined for apoptosis (Fluoro-Jade C and activated caspase-3), histopathologic change, and glial responses (ionized calcium-binding adapter molecule 1 and glial fibrillary acid protein). After maximal doses of ketamine or saline at P3 or P21, sensory thresholds and gait analysis were evaluated at P35. Results: Intrathecal injection of 3 mg/kg ketamine at P3 and 15 mg/kg at P21 reverses carrageenan-induced hyperalgesia. Baseline neuronal apoptosis in the spinal cord was greater at P3 than P7, predominantly in the dorsal horn. Intrathecal injection of 3-10 mg/kg ketamine in P3 pups (but not 15 mg/kg at P21) acutely increased apoptosis and microglial activation in the spinal cord and altered spinal function (reduced mechanical withdrawal threshold and altered static gait parameters) at P35. Conclusions: Because acute pathology and long-term behavioral change occurred in the same dose range as antihyperalgesic effects, the therapeutic ratio of intrathecal ketamine is less than one in the neonatal rat. This measure facilitates comparison of the relative safety of spinally administered analgesic agents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-159
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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