Early life inflammation is associated with spinal cord excitability and nociceptive sensitivity in human infants

Immune function and sensitivity to pain are closely related, but the association between early life inflammation and sensory nervous system development is poorly understood—especially in humans. Here, in term-born infants, we measure brain activity and reflex withdrawal activity (using EEG and EMG) and behavioural and physiological activity (using the PIPP-R score) to assess the impact of suspected early-onset neonatal infection on tactile- and noxious-evoked responses. We present evidence that neonatal inflammation (assessed by measuring C-reactive protein levels) is associated with increased spinal cord excitability and evoked brain activity following both tactile and noxious stimulation. There are early indications that this hyperalgesia could be maintained post-inflammation, supporting pre-clinical reports of early-life immune dysfunction influencing pain sensitivity in adults.