Publication Date




Embargo Period


Degree Type

Doctoral Essay

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Neuroscience (Medicine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Helen M. Bramlett

Second Committee Member

Robert W. Keane

Third Committee Member

Antonio Barrientos

Fourth Committee Member

Sari Izenwasser

Fifth Committee Member

Charles Luetje


Anesthesia-induced spatial learning impairments in aged rats model postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD) in the elderly surgical population. Mechanisms underlying both normal age-related cognitive decline and anesthesia-induced spatial learning deficits in aged rats were investigated. With respect to the involvement of inflammasome activation and age-related cognitive decline, I hypothesized that the aged hippocampus exhibits an elevated activation of inflammasome components contributing to elevated levels of IL-1β in the aged brain. Age-related cognitive decline was identified in a subpopulation of male Fischer 344 rats. Activation of the NLRP1 inflammasome was elevated in the aged brain, contributing to spatial learning deficits in aged rats. With respect to anesthesia-induced spatial learning impairment in aged rats, I hypothesized that an increase in NR2B subunit in the hippocampus and cortex during and following isoflurane anesthesia exposure resulting in spatial learning impairment in aged rats via disruption of downstream signaling molecule, extracellular-signal regulated protein kinase (ERK). Anesthesia exposure resulted in chronic spatial learning impairment in aged rats that were previously unimpaired in spatial learning tasks. Additionally, anesthesia induced elevated levels of N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor NR2B subunit protein expression in aged. It was concluded that various factors contribute to age-related spatial impairment including: NLRP1 inflammasome activation and NMDA receptor NR2B protein expression elevation. It was also concluded that anesthesia exposure exacerbates the elevation in NR2B protein expression in the aged brain, with subsequent disruption of ERK activation leading to chronic spatial learning deficits in aged rats. In the final chapter, a relationship for the interplay between inflammation and NMDA receptor function in the aged brain is discussed. In addition, a novel mechanism for anesthesia-induced cognitive deficits is presented. Therapeutic treatments for cognitive decline and anesthesia-induced cognitive deficits are explored. Finally, future lines of research are proposed.


aging; anesthesia; NMDA receptor NR2B subunit, inflammasome; Ro 25-6981; Probenecid