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Medical News & Perspectives
April 25, 2007

Anesthesia-Alzheimer Disease Link Probed

JAMA. 2007;297(16):1760. doi:10.1001/jama.297.16.1760

Some commonly used inhaled anesthetics may cause brain damage that accelerates the onset of Alzheimer disease, according to recent findings from two separate groups of scientists.

For more than a decade, physicians and scientists have searched for clues to why some people experience cognitive dysfunction after undergoing anesthesia and surgery (Brewer K et al. Anesthesia exposure as a possible risk factor for cognitive decline in the elderly. In: Alzheimer's Disease. Paris: Serdi Publishing Company;1996:161-171). Some studies also have suggested that age of onset of Alzheimer disease may be associated with previous anesthetic exposure during surgery, although the results from these small studies were not significant (Bohnen N et al. Int J Neurosci. 1994;77:181-185; Gasparini M et al. Neurol Sci. 2002;23:11-14; Lee TA et al. J Alzheimers Dis. 2005:7:319-324). Now, scientists are beginning to tease out the mechanisms behind anesthesia's ill effects on the brain and to understand how these mechanisms might lead to cognitive dysfunction and speed the development of Alzheimer disease.