Ketamine, an N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist, is widely used for analgesia and anesthesia in obstetric and pediatric practice. Recent reports indicate that ketamine causes neuronal cell death in developing rodents and nonhuman primates. The present study assessed the potential dose- and time-dependent neurotoxic effects and associated changes in gene expression after ketamine administration to postnatal day 7 (PND-7) rat pups. Pups were exposed to ketamine subcutaneously at doses of 5, 10, or 20 mg/kg, in one, three or six injections respectively. Control animals received the same volume of saline at the same time points. The animals were sacrificed 6 h after the last ketamine or saline administration and brain tissues were collected for RNA isolation and histochemical examination. Six injections of 20 mg/kg ketamine significantly increased neuronal cell death in frontal cortex, while lower doses and fewer injections did not show significant effects. The ketamine induced cell death seemed to be apoptotic in nature. In situ hybridization demonstrated that NMDA receptor NR1 subunit expression was dramatically increased in the frontal cortex of ketamine treated rats. Microarray analysis revealed altered expression of apoptotic relevant genes and increased NMDA receptor gene expression in brains from ketamine treated animals. Quantitative RT-PCR confirmed the microarray results. These data suggest that repeated exposures to high doses of ketamine can cause compensatory up-regulation of NMDA receptors and subsequently trigger apoptosis in developing neurons.
Keywords: N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor, ketamine, apoptosis, in situ hybridization, microarray analysis, glutamatergic system, NMDA-receptor, NMDA-receptor antagonists
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