Neurobehavioral toxicology of halothane in rats.
Halothane, a commonly used general anesthetic, is considered to be relatively safe for that purpose. Chronic exposure, however, has been found to cause long-lasting damage to neural structure and impairment of behavioral function. In rats, behavioral alterations are particularly evident after developmental exposure, but they can also be seen with adult exposure, especially when halothane is given during the period of neural regrowth following a brain lesion. The pattern of neural damage includes retarded synaptogenesis, impaired dendritic branching and disruption of organelle structure. The behavioral syndrome includes learning impairment, decreased exploratory behavior and decreased nociceptive reactivity. In general, the neural pathology is more pronounced and more easily discernible than the behavioral effects. Neural damage, particularly to the hippocampus, can be clearly seen at points when behavioral impairments have not been found. This demonstrates that in some cases changes in neural structure can be more sensitive indicators of toxic damage than behavioral dysfunction. Halothane exposure has proved to be quite useful as an experimental tool in the study of neural and behavioral recovery after brain lesions. For example, after unilateral entorhinal cortical lesions, behavioral recovery and reactive synaptogenesis occur contemporaneously. It has not been demonstrated whether the behavioral recovery is due to this reinnervation. Postlesion halothane exposure almost completely suppresses reactive synaptogenesis, however, behavioral recovery of T-maze alternation behavior occurs in the halothane-treated rats as well as in controls. This suggests that recovery of spatial performance after such a lesion is not due to recovery of innervation in the dentate, but to some other process such as other neural systems taking over the functions lost with the brain lesion. The studies reviewed highlight the dangers of halothane exposure, especially during development or when recovering from brain injury. They also provide a good case study for comparing the relative sensitivity of morphological and behavioral measures in toxicology and point to the potential use of halothane as an experimental tool for examining the relationships between neural structure and behavioral function.
Levin, ED; Uemura, E; Bowman, RE
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