The neurodevelopmental impact of neonatal morphine administration

Brain Sci. 2014 Apr 25;4(2):321-34. doi: 10.3390/brainsci4020321.


Medical management of newborn infants often necessitates recurrent painful procedures, which may alter nociceptive pathways during a critical developmental period and adversely effect neuropsychological outcomes. To mitigate the effects of repeated painful stimuli, opioid administration for peri-procedural analgesia and ICU (intensive care unit) sedation is common in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). A growing body of basic and animal evidence suggests potential long-term harm associated with neonatal opioid therapy. Morphine increases apoptosis in human microglial cells, and animal studies demonstrate long-term changes in behavior, brain function, and spatial recognition memory following morphine exposure. This comprehensive review examines existing preclinical and clinical evidence on the long-term impacts of neonatal pain and opioid therapy.