A review article in the journal Cell Press: Trends in Neuroscience outlines the wide variety of cellular signaling roles for caspase proteins — a type of cellular enzyme best known for its documented role in the natural process of cell death (apoptosis). The authors, including Nemanja Saric, Ph.D., Kazue Hashimoto-Torii, Ph.D., and Nobuyuki Ishibashi, M.D., all from Children’s National Research Institute, pay particular attention to what the scientific literature shows about caspases’ non-apoptotic roles in the neurons specifically. They also highlight research showing how, when activated during a cardiac surgery with anesthesia and cardiopulmonary bypass, these enzymes may contribute to the degeneration of brain cells seen in young children who undergo heart surgery for critical congenital heart defects (CHDs).
Why it matters
The review summarizes both the known physiological roles of caspases as well as some of the well-characterized neurotoxic effects of anesthetics in pre-clinical models.
The authors propose that these non-apoptotic activities of caspases may be behind some of the adverse effects on the developing brain related to cardiac surgery and anesthesia. Those adverse effects are known to increase risk of behavioral impairments in children with congenital heart disease who underwent cardiac surgery with both anesthesia and cardiopulmonary bypass at a very young age.
This work is the first to propose a possible link between developmental anesthesia neurotoxicity and caspase-dependent cellular responses.
The patient benefit
Better understanding of the time and dose-dependent effects of general anesthetics on the developing brain, particularly in children who have genetic predispositions to conditions such as CHDs, will help researchers understand their role (if any) in behavioral problems often encountered by these patients after surgery.
If found to be a contributing factor, perhaps new therapies to mitigate this caspase activity might be explored to alleviate some of these adverse effects on the developing brain.
The authors hope to stimulate more in-depth research into caspase signaling events, particularly related to how these signaling events change when an anesthetic is introduced. Deeper understanding of how anesthetics impact caspase activation in the developing brain will allow for better assessments of the risk for children who need major surgery early in life.
Children’s National leads the way
Children’s National Hospital leads studies funded by the U.S. Department of Defense to better understand how these other roles of caspases, which until now have not been well-documented, may contribute to brain cell degeneration when activated by prolonged anesthesia and cardiopulmonary bypass during cardiac surgery for congenital heart disease.