Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Researchers from Oxford’s Department of Paediatrics have discovered that infection can increase a baby’s sensitivity to pain, which may last longer than the infection.

In a new study published in Nature Communications, researchers observed 65 newborn babies who had received a standard heel-prick blood test to look for signs of potential infection. When a baby’s blood test result suggested they may have an infection, which required further antibiotic treatment, the researchers continued to look for signs of pain or discomfort.

They found that babies with laboratory markers of inflammation associated with infection (raised C-Reactive Protein, (CRP) levels in blood) displayed more sensitivity to pain. This was measured by recording changes in each baby’s brain activity, leg reflex withdrawal activity, facial expression and heart rate in response to a clinically-required heel prick blood test.

These babies were also more sensitive to touch, which is consistent with clinical reports that infections can make babies more irritable. While behavioural signs of pain, such as facial grimacing, did not appear to be exaggerated by the presence of inflammation, this may be because fighting an infection can cause babies to be more lethargic and fatigued.

This study also suggests that increased pain sensitivity may be maintained after the infection has been treated, supporting other laboratory studies which show that early-life infection can have a long-term influence on pain sensitivity that lasts into adulthood.

Rebeccah Slater, Professor of Paediatric Neuroscience and Senior Wellcome Fellow at Oxford University’s Department of Paediatrics, said: “Around ten per cent of babies are thought to have infections after birth, and it is important to realise that these babies may be more sensitive to pain when they are handled and cared for in hospital. As babies can’t tell us when they are feeling pain finding ways to measure pain, including looking at their brain activity, is essential to improving clinical care”.

Dr Maria Cobo, the postdoctoral researcher who led the study, said “It is thought-provoking to know that increased sensitivity to pain appears to last longer than the infection, highlighting the importance of constantly reviewing and improving the care we give to newborn children. Knowing that babies with infections may be more pain sensitive will encourage physicians to make babies more comfortable while they undergo treatment for common infections, which is important for both babies and their parents.”

Dr Rebeccah Slater is presenting this work in Paris at Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS) today.

Notes to Editors

The full paper, ‘Early life inflammation is associated with spinal cord excitability and nociceptive sensitivity in human infants’, is published in the journal Nature Communications. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-31505-y

For further information please contact: Chris McIntyre, Communications Manager: +44 (0)1865 280 528, christopher.mcintyre@admin.ox.ac.uk

 

Similar stories

Direct evidence of reduced NMDA receptors in people with form of encephalitis

NMDAR-antibody encephalitis is an autoimmune brain condition caused by patient’s own antibodies that bind to NMDA (N-Methyl-D-Aspartate) receptors in the synapses between nerve cells.

Testing for hearing loss could 'reduce dementia risk' later in life

Research by Sarah Bauermeister of Dementias Platform UK into hearing loss and its impacts on the progress of dementia in later life has featured in extensive media coverage of a Brain Health Check-In tool created by Alzheimer's Research UK.

Factors influencing cognitive development - new longitudinal study

Data comes from more than 2,600 individuals from four different countries and looks at links between factors like childhood stature, IQ and schooling.

Raised intracellular chloride levels underlie the effects of tiredness in cortex

A new study, co-authored by Professor Vladyslav Vyazovskiy, published in Nature Neuroscience, has revealed that intracellular chloride levels within cortical pyramidal neurons reflect sleep–wake history.

Updating the circuit maps of the sympathetic neural network

A new review from Professor Ana Domingos’ lab and colleagues offers a fresh modern viewpoint on sympathetic neurons and their relation to immune cells and obesity.

Many adolescents game a lot without negative effects on their wellbeing

Although many school-age adolescents are spending considerable time gaming, it is not having a negative impact on their wellbeing.