Exposure to volatile anesthetics during the neonatal period results in acute neuron death. Prior work suggests that apoptosis is the dominant mechanism mediating neuron death. We show that Bax deficiency blocks neuronal death following exposure to isoflurane during the neonatal period. Blocking Bax-mediated neuron death attenuated the neuroinflammatory response of microglia following isoflurane exposure. We find that GABAergic interneurons are disproportionately overrepresented among dying neurons. Despite the increase in neuronal apoptosis induced by isoflurane exposure during the neonatal period, seizure susceptibility, spatial memory retention, and contextual fear memory were unaffected later in life. However, Bax deficiency alone led to mild deficiencies in spatial memory and contextual fear memory, suggesting that normal developmental apoptotic death is important for cognitive function. Collectively, these findings show that while GABAergic neurons in the neonatal brain undergo elevated Bax-dependent apoptotic cell death following exposure to isoflurane, this does not appear to have long-lasting consequences on overall neurological function later in life.
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