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J Physiol. 2003 Jul 1;550(Pt 1):255-61. Epub 2003 May 23.

Spinal dorsal horn cell receptive field size is increased in adult rats following neonatal hindpaw skin injury.

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Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK.


Local tissue damage in newborn rats can lead to changes in skin sensitivity that last into adulthood and this is likely to be due to plasticity of developing peripheral and central sensory connections. This study examines the functional connections of dorsal horn neurons in young and adult rats that have undergone local skin damage at birth. Newborn rat pups were halothane anaesthetised and received either a unilateral subcutaneous plantar injection of 1 % lambda-carrageenan or a unilateral plantar foot injury made by removal of 2 mm x 2 mm of skin. At 3 weeks, (postnatal day (P) 19-23) and 6 weeks (P40-44) in vivo extracellular recordings of single dorsal horn cells with plantar cutaneous receptive fields were made under urethane anaesthesia (2 g kg-1) and responses to mechanical and electrical stimulation of the skin were assessed. Following neonatal carrageenan inflammation, dorsal horn neuron properties and receptive field sizes at 3 weeks were the same as those of controls. In contrast, following neonatal skin injury, dorsal horn cell receptive field sizes were significantly greater than those of controls at 3 weeks (2.5-fold) and at 6 weeks (2.2-fold). Mechanical thresholds, mechanical response magnitudes and evoked responses to single and repeated A and C fibre stimulation remained unaffected. These results show that early skin injury can cause prolonged changes in central sensory connections that persist into adult life, long after the skin has healed. Enlarged dorsal horn neuron receptive field sizes provide a physiological mechanism for the persistent behavioural hypersensitivity that follows neonatal skin injury in rats and for the prolonged sensory changes reported in human infants after early pain and injury.

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