The search for translational pain outcomes to refine analgesic development: Where did we come from and where are we going?

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2020 Jun;113:238-261. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.03.004. Epub 2020 Mar 5.


Pain measures traditionally used in rodents record mere reflexes evoked by sensory stimuli; the results thus may not fully reflect the human pain phenotype. Alterations in physical and emotional functioning, pain-depressed behaviors and facial pain expressions were recently proposed as additional pain outcomes to provide a more accurate measure of clinical pain in rodents, and hence to potentially enhance analgesic drug development. We aimed to review how preclinical pain assessment has evolved since the development of the tail flick test in 1941, with a particular focus on a critical analysis of some nonstandard pain outcomes, and a consideration of how sex differences may affect the performance of these pain surrogates. We tracked original research articles in Medline for the following periods: 1973-1977, 1983-1987, 1993-1997, 2003-2007, and 2014-2018. We identified 606 research articles about alternative surrogate pain measures, 473 of which were published between 2014 and 2018. This indicates that preclinical pain assessment is moving toward the use of these measures, which may soon become standard procedures in preclinical pain laboratories.

Keywords: Analgesia; Animal model; Behavior; Burrowing; Exploratory activity; Facial expressions; Grip strength; Home cage activity; Intracranial self-stimulation; Nesting; Pain; Postural changes; Wheel running.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics* / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Male
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain* / drug therapy
  • Sex Characteristics


  • Analgesics