Genetic risk, not anesthesia exposure, impacts cognitive performance

August 4, 2009

A recent study of more than 2,000 identical twins found that medical problems early in life, rather than the neurotoxic effects of anesthesia, are likely linked to an individual's risk for developing learning disabilities. The study's findings, reported in the journal Twin Research and Human Genetics, contradict research published earlier this year, which concluded that receiving anesthesia younger than age four is associated with subsequent learning problems.

Robert Althoff, M.D., Ph.D., director of behavioral genetics at the University of Vermont's UVM) Vermont Center for , Youth & Families, along with colleagues Meike Bartels and Dorret Boomsma from VU University in the Netherlands, examined the relationship between exposure and cognitive performance, but controlled for genetic association by using a sample of 1,143 identical Dutch twin pairs (2,286 children total). The research team grouped the participants into children who had anesthesia exposure before age three and those who had not, in order to facilitate the identification of twin pairs where both had been exposed to anesthesia, where neither had been exposed to anesthesia, or where only one member of the pair had been exposed to anesthesia. The twins' cognitive outcomes were measured using a standardized national exam administered to all children in the Netherlands at about age 12.

"While there was a difference in cognitive outcomes between children who had been exposed to anesthesia versus children who had not, there was no difference in cognitive outcomes between where one was exposed to anesthesia and the other was not," said Althoff, who is also assistant professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at UVM. "This indicates that exposure to anesthesia is not itself associated with worse cognitive outcomes, but rather is likely a marker of risk for later learning problems."

According to the study's authors, "classical twin studies have been informative in uncovering the underlying genetic and environmental contributions to intelligence in general and to learning disabilities specifically." The team suggests that in future related studies, screening for learning problems should take place before a child undergoes surgery, in order to establish whether or not the problem is already present.

Source: University of Vermont

Explore further: Anesthetized heroin withdrawal: no benefit

Related Stories

Childhood sun exposure may lower risk of MS

July 23, 2007

People who spent more time in the sun as children may have a lower risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS) than people who had less sun exposure during childhood, according to a study published in the July 24, 2007, issue ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.