Altered nociceptive, endocrine, and dorsal horn neuron responses in rats following a neonatal immune challenge

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The neonatal period is characterized by significant plasticity where the immune, endocrine, and nociceptive systems undergo fine-tuning and maturation. Painful experiences during this period can result in long-term alterations in the neurocircuitry underlying nociception, including increased sensitivity to mechanical or thermal stimuli. Less is known about the impact of neonatal exposure to mild inflammatory stimuli, such as lipopolysaccharide (LPS), on subsequent inflammatory pain responses. Here we examine the impact of neonatal LPS exposure on inflammatory pain sensitivity and HPA axis activity during the first three postnatal weeks. Wistar rats were injected with LPS (0.05. mg/kg IP, Salmonella enteritidis) or saline on postnatal days (PNDs) 3 and 5 and later subjected to the formalin test at PNDs 7, 13, and 22. One hour after formalin injection, blood was collected to assess corticosterone responses. Transverse spinal cord slices were also prepared for whole-cell patch clamp recording from lumbar superficial dorsal horn neurons (SDH). Brains were obtained at PND 22 and the hypothalamus was isolated to measure glucocorticoid (GR) and mineralocorticoid receptor (MR) transcript expression using qRT-PCR. Behavioural analyses indicate that at PND 7, no significant differences were observed between saline- or LPS-challenged rats. At PND 13, LPS-challenged rats exhibited enhanced licking (p<. .01), and at PND 22, increased flinching in response to formalin injection (p<. .05). LPS-challenged rats also displayed increased plasma corticosterone at PND 7 and PND 22 (p<. .001) but not at PND 13 following formalin administration. Furthermore, at PND 22 neonatal LPS exposure induced decreased levels of GR mRNA and increased levels of MR mRNA in the hypothalamus. The intrinsic properties of SDH neurons were similar at PND 7 and PND 13. However, at PND 22, ipsilateral SDH neurons in LPS-challenged rats had a lower input resistance compared to their saline-challenged counterparts (p<. .05). These data suggest neonatal LPS exposure produces developmentally regulated changes in formalin-induced behavioural responses, corticosterone levels, and dorsal horn neuron properties following noxious stimulation later in life. These findings highlight the importance of immune activation during the neonatal period in shaping pain sensitivity later in life. This programming involves both spinal cord neurons and the HPA axis. © 2013.

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