Encoding of mechanical nociception differs in the adult and infant brain

Sci Rep. 2016 Jun 27;6:28642. doi: 10.1038/srep28642.


Newborn human infants display robust pain behaviour and specific cortical activity following noxious skin stimulation, but it is not known whether brain processing of nociceptive information differs in infants and adults. Imaging studies have emphasised the overlap between infant and adult brain connectome architecture, but electrophysiological analysis of infant brain nociceptive networks can provide further understanding of the functional postnatal development of pain perception. Here we hypothesise that the human infant brain encodes noxious information with different neuronal patterns compared to adults. To test this we compared EEG responses to the same time-locked noxious skin lance in infants aged 0-19 days (n = 18, clinically required) and adults aged 23-48 years (n = 21). Time-frequency analysis revealed that while some features of adult nociceptive network activity are present in infants at longer latencies, including beta-gamma oscillations, infants display a distinct, long latency, noxious evoked 18-fold energy increase in the fast delta band (2-4 Hz) that is absent in adults. The differences in activity between infants and adults have a widespread topographic distribution across the brain. These data support our hypothesis and indicate important postnatal changes in the encoding of mechanical pain in the human brain.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Connectome*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Nociception / physiology*