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Anesthesiology. 2003 Aug;99(2):443-8.

Age-dependent responses to thermal hyperalgesia and mechanical allodynia in a rat model of acute postoperative pain.

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Department of Anesthesiology and Center for the Study of Pharmacologic Plasticity in the Presence of Pain, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27157-1009, USA.



Developmental differences in short- and long-term responses to pain, especially surgical pain, have received minimal attention. The purpose of the present study was to examine postoperative responses in rats of developmental ages paralleling the infant to young adult human.


The withdrawal threshold to von Frey filament testing and withdrawal latency to hind-paw radiant heating were determined before and for various times after hind-paw incision in rats 2, 4, and 16 weeks of age. Control rats of these ages were observed serially without surgery.


In control animals, younger rats were more sensitive to mechanical stimulation and less sensitive to thermal stimulation. Paw incision resulted in similar changes to both types of stimulation in all age groups, peaking 4 h after surgery. However, the return to normal sensitivity to mechanical stimulation, as measured by return of threshold to 80% of normal, occurred more quickly in 2-week-old than in 4- and 16-week-old animals. In contrast, there was no age difference for time to return to normal sensitivity to thermal stimulation after surgery.


The more rapid recovery of the younger animals from the mechanical allodynia but not thermal hypersensitivity after surgery suggests the presence of developmental differences in modulation of A-fiber sensitization after surgery. However, the lack of age difference in recovery of thermal hypersensitivity after surgery suggests that sensitization of C-fiber input has a similar time course of resolution of pain over the ages studied in this model. The neural bases for these developmental differences are under study and may lead to a better understanding of pain during development and altered approaches to treatment of postoperative pain in neonates and infants.

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