Institution: Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts, 02481
Abstract: Sleep is known to play an important role in cognition, learning and memory. As Drosophila melanogaster have stable circadian rhythms and behavioral states similar to those of human sleep, they have been a useful model to investigate the effects of sleep on learning and memory. General anesthesia has been shown to cause cognitive impairments in humans. However, anesthesia also induces a behavioral state similar to sleep and may activate sleep pathways. This study examined learning and memory after an acute exposure of isoflurane in a Drosophila mutant model of restless leg syndrome. There were two possible outcomes: isoflurane (an anesthetic) could have impaired cognitive functioning or enhanced learning and memory by activating sleep pathways. Given the acute cognitive impairments often observed postoperatively, we believed the former outcome to be the most likely. Flies with fragmented sleep had impaired performance on an aversive phototaxic suppression learning and memory task compared to wildtype flies. This deficit was rescued with isoflurane exposure, as no differences in learning were observed between mutant and wildtype flies treated with anesthesia. This result suggests that anesthesia exposure can ameliorate impaired learning and memory due to sleep fragmentation. Further investigations are required to determine the type of memory impacted by anesthesia and the mechanisms by which anesthesia induces this effect.