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Pain. 2011 Aug;152(8):1846-55. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2011.04.001. Epub 2011 May 6.

Neonatal tissue damage facilitates nociceptive synaptic input to the developing superficial dorsal horn via NGF-dependent mechanisms.

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  • 1Pain Research Center, Department of Anesthesiology, University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Cincinnati, OH 45267, USA.


Tissue injury during a critical period of early life can facilitate spontaneous glutamatergic transmission within developing pain circuits in the superficial dorsal horn (SDH) of the spinal cord. However, the extent to which neonatal tissue damage strengthens nociceptive synaptic input to specific subpopulations of SDH neurons, as well as the mechanisms underlying this distinct form of synaptic plasticity, remains unclear. Here we use in vitro whole-cell patch clamp recordings from rodent spinal cord slices to demonstrate that neonatal surgical injury selectively potentiates high-threshold primary afferent input to immature lamina II neurons. In addition, the increase in the frequency of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents after hindpaw incision was prevented by neonatal capsaicin treatment, suggesting that early tissue injury enhances glutamate release from nociceptive synapses. This occurs in a widespread manner within the developing SDH, as incision elevated miniature excitatory postsynaptic current frequency in both GABAergic and presumed glutamatergic lamina II neurons of Gad-GFP transgenic mice. The administration of exogenous nerve growth factor into the rat hindpaw mimicked the effects of early tissue damage on excitatory synaptic function, while blocking trkA receptors in vivo abolished the changes in both spontaneous and primary afferent-evoked glutamatergic transmission following incision. These findings illustrate that neonatal tissue damage can alter the gain of developing pain pathways by activating nerve growth factor-dependent signaling cascades, which modify synaptic efficacy at the first site of nociceptive processing within the central nervous system.

Copyright © 2011 International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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