Autophagy is associated with regulation of both the survival and death of neurons, and has been linked to many neurodegenerative diseases. Postoperative cognitive dysfunction is commonly observed in elderly patients following anesthesia, but the pathophysiological mechanisms are largely unexplored. Similar effects have been found in aged rats under sevoflurane anesthesia; however, the role of autophagy in sevoflurane anesthesia-induced hippocampal neuron apoptosis of older rats remains elusive. The present study was designed to investigate the effects of autophagy on the sevoflurane-induced cognitive dysfunction in aged rats, and to identify the role of autophagy in sevoflurane-induced neuron apoptosis. We used 20-month-old rats under sevoflurane anesthesia to study memory performance, neuron apoptosis, and autophagy. The results demonstrated that sevoflurane anesthesia significantly impaired memory performance and induced hippocampal neuron apoptosis. Interestingly, treatment of rapamycin, an autophagy inducer, improved the cognitive deficit observed in the aged rats under sevoflurane anesthesia by improving autophagic flux. Rapamycin treatment led to the rapid accumulation of autophagic bodies and autophagy lysosomes, decreased p62 protein levels, and increased the ratio of microtubule-associated protein light chain 3 II (LC3-II) to LC3-I in hippocampal neurons through the mTOR signaling pathway. However, administration of an autophagy inhibitor (chloroquine) attenuated the autophagic flux and increased the severity of sevoflurane anesthesia-induced neuronal apoptosis and memory impairment. These findings suggest that impaired autophagy in the hippocampal neurons of aged rats after sevoflurane anesthesia may contribute to cognitive impairment. Therefore, our findings represent a potential novel target for pro-autophagy treatments in patients with sevoflurane anesthesia-induced neurodegeneration.
Zhang, X., Zhou, Y., Xu, M., & Chen, G. (2016). Autophagy is involved in the sevoflurane anesthesia-induced cognitive dysfunction of aged rats. PLoS ONE, 11(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153505