Neurotoxicity of Anesthesia in Children: Prevention and Treatment

  • Amy E. VinsonEmail author
  • Constance S. Houck
Pediatric Neurology (A Yeshokumar, Section Editor)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Pediatric Neurology


Purpose of review

The purpose of this review is to summarize the current evidence regarding the impact of the exposure to anesthetic and sedative agents on neurodevelopment during the period of rapid brain growth in the first 3 years of life. Though much of the definitive data demonstrating anesthesia-induced neurotoxicity has come from studies in young animals, the focus of this review is on emerging human data.

Recent findings

In 2016, the first prospective trials investigating the neurodevelopmental impact of early anesthetic exposure (GAS and PANDA studies) were published, both showing no significant impact on IQ from a single brief anesthetic. More recent population cohort analyses have shown varying, but minimal, impacts from early anesthetic exposure on academic performance and IQ, much smaller than that of maternal education and other environmental factors.


Animal and human data document that post-anesthetic neurotoxicity is a genuine phenomenon, but its long-term clinical significance is uncertain. Most experts would agree that a single, brief anesthetic likely has no significant impact on neurodevelopment, but it is yet to be determined whether longer exposures or multiple anesthetics are associated with subsequent learning issues. Future research is aimed at determining the mechanisms of neuronal injury from exposure to anesthetic and sedative agents, adjunctive medications that may prevent or ameliorate this injury, and therapeutic approaches such as early intervention that can enhance recovery. While these studies are underway, it is recommended that exposure to anesthetic and sedative agents be minimized in young children and consideration be given to alternative methods of immobilization for nonpainful procedures such as radiologic imaging.


Anesthetic neurotoxicity Anesthetic exposure Sedation exposure Pediatric anesthesia neurotoxicity Post-anesthetic neurotoxicity 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anesthesiology, Critical Care and Pain MedicineBoston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical SchoolBostonUSA

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