Scientific reports

Neonatal repetitive pain in rats leads to impaired spatial learning and dysregulated hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function in later life.

PMID 27966656


Preterm birth is a major health issue. As part of their life-saving care, most preterm infants require hospitalization and are inevitably exposed to repetitive skin-breaking procedures. The long-term effects of neonatal repetitive pain on cognitive and emotional behaviors involving hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function in young and adult rats are unknown. From P8 to P85, mechanical hypersensitivity of the bilateral hindpaws was observed in the Needle group (P < 0.001). Compared with the Tactile group, the Needle group took longer to find the platform on P30 than on P29 (P = 0.03), with a decreased number of original platform site crossings during the probe trial of the Morris water maze test (P = 0.026). Moreover, the Needle group spent more time and took longer distances in the central area than the Tactile group in the Open-field test, both in prepubertal and adult rats (P < 0.05). The HPA axis function in the Needle group differed from the Tactile group (P < 0.05), with decreased stress responsiveness in prepuberty and puberty (P < 0.05) and increased stress responsiveness in adulthood (P < 0.05). This study indicates that repetitive pain that occurs during a critical period may cause severe consequences, with behavioral and neuroendocrine disturbances developing through prepuberty to adult life.