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Brain Behav Immun. 2009 Mar;23(3):365-70. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2008.11.003. Epub 2008 Nov 27.

Degranulated mast cells in the skin of adults with self-injurious behavior and neurodevelopmental disorders.

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  • 1Department of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota, 56 River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA.


The role of nociceptive processes in relation to chronic, tissue-damaging self-injury among individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders is poorly understood. Scientific investigation has been limited, in part, by the clinical reality that the majority of individuals with severe intellectual impairments have co-morbid communicative impairments making it difficult to ascertain information regarding pain. Recently, we found abnormal patterns of peripheral epidermal nerve fiber (ENF) innervation and increased neuropeptide (substance P; SP) content among a subset of individuals with chronic self-injury. Here, we provide initial evidence for peripheral neuro-immune activity specific to self-injury. Skin samples from non-injury body-matched sites were compared between non-verbal adults with and without self-injury matched on gender and disability level. Relative to disability-matched controls, individuals with chronic self-injury had significantly more degranulated mast cells and were more responsive to tactile stimulation during a sensory testing procedure. Thus, nociceptive mechanisms and peripheral afferent sensitization may play a part in mediating and maintaining chronic self-injury.

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