Recently it was demonstrated that exposure of the developing brain during the period of synaptogenesis to drugs that block NMDA glutamate receptors or drugs that potentiate GABA(A) receptors can trigger widespread apoptotic neurodegeneration. All currently used general anesthetic agents have either NMDA receptor-blocking or GABA(A) receptor-enhancing properties. To induce or maintain a surgical plane of anesthesia, it is common practice in pediatric or obstetrical medicine to use agents from these two classes in combination. Therefore, the question arises whether this practice entails significant risk of inducing apoptotic neurodegeneration in the developing human brain. To begin to address this problem, we have administered to 7-d-old infant rats a combination of drugs commonly used in pediatric anesthesia (midazolam, nitrous oxide, and isoflurane) in doses sufficient to maintain a surgical plane of anesthesia for 6 hr, and have observed that this causes widespread apoptotic neurodegeneration in the developing brain, deficits in hippocampal synaptic function, and persistent memory/learning impairments.