Send to

Choose Destination
J Neurosci. 2019 Apr 17;39(16):3081-3093. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1786-18.2019. Epub 2019 Feb 22.

Priming of Adult Incision Response by Early-Life Injury: Neonatal Microglial Inhibition Has Persistent But Sexually Dimorphic Effects in Adult Rats.

Author information

Developmental Neurosciences Programme (Pain Research), University College London Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, London WC1N 1EH, United Kingdom.
Neurosciences and Mental Health Program, Hospital for Sick Children, Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5G 1X8, Canada.
Neuroscience Physiology and Pharmacology, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom, and.
Developmental Neurosciences Programme (Pain Research), University College London Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, London WC1N 1EH, United Kingdom,
Department of Anaesthesia and Pain Medicine, Great Ormond Street Hospital, National Health Service Foundation Trust, London WC1N 3JH, United Kingdom.


Neonatal hindpaw incision primes developing spinal nociceptive circuitry, resulting in enhanced hyperalgesia following reinjury in adulthood. Spinal microglia contribute to this persistent effect, and microglial inhibition at the time of adult reincision blocks the enhanced hyperalgesia. Here, we pharmacologically inhibited microglial function with systemic minocycline or intrathecal SB203580 at the time of neonatal incision and evaluated sex-dependent differences following adult reincision. Incision in adult male and female rats induced equivalent hyperalgesia and spinal dorsal horn expression of genes associated with microglial proliferation (Emr1) and transformation to a reactive phenotype (Irf8). In control adults with prior neonatal incision, the enhanced degree and duration of incision-induced hyperalgesia and spinal microglial responses to reincision were equivalent in males and females. However, microglial inhibition at the time of the neonatal incision revealed sex-dependent effects: the persistent mechanical and thermal hyperalgesia following reincision in adulthood was prevented in males but unaffected in females. Similarly, reincision induced Emr1 and Irf8 gene expression was downregulated in males, but not in females, following neonatal incision with minocycline. To evaluate the distribution of reincision hyperalgesia, prior neonatal incision was performed at different body sites. Hyperalgesia was maximal when the same paw was reincised, and was increased following prior incision at ipsilateral, but not contralateral, sites, supporting a segmentally restricted spinal mechanism. These data highlight the contribution of spinal microglial mechanisms to persistent effects of early-life injury in males, and sex-dependent differences in the ability of microglial inhibition to prevent the transition to a persistent pain state span developmental stages.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Following the same surgery, some patients develop persistent pain. Contributory mechanisms are not fully understood, but early-life experience and sex/gender may influence the transition to chronic pain. Surgery and painful procedural interventions in vulnerable preterm neonates are associated with long-term alterations in somatosensory function and pain that differ in males and females. Surgical injury in neonatal rodents primes the developing nociceptive system and enhances reinjury response in adulthood. Neuroimmune interactions are critical mediators of persistent pain, but sex-dependent differences in spinal neuroglial signaling influence the efficacy of microglial inhibitors following adult injury. Neonatal microglial inhibition has beneficial long-term effects on reinjury response in adult males only, emphasizing the importance of evaluating sex-dependent differences at all ages in preclinical studies.


dorsal horn; incision; microglia; neonate; pain; sex-dependent

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for HighWire Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center