The effects of peripheral nerve injury on somatosensory processing and pain are highly dependent upon the age at which the damage occurs. Adult nerve injury rapidly triggers neuropathic pain, but this is not so if the same nerve injury is performed in animals below postnatal day (P) 28, consistent with observations in paediatric patients. However, longitudinal studies show that pain hypersensitivity emerges later in life, when the animal reaches adolescence, an observation that could be of clinical importance. Here we discuss the evidence that the central consequences of nerve damage are critically determined by the status of neuroimmune regulation at different ages. In the first postnatal weeks, when spinal somatosensory circuits are undergoing synaptic reorganisation, the 'default' neuroimmune response is skewed in an anti-inflammatory direction, suppressing the excitation of dorsal horn neurons and preventing the onset of neuropathic pain. As animals grow up and the central nervous system matures, the neuroimmune profile shifts in a pro-inflammatory direction, unmasking a 'latent' pain response to an earlier nerve injury. The data predicts that nerve injury in infancy and childhood could go unnoticed at the time, but emerge as clinically 'unexplained' or 'functional' pain in adolescence.
Fitzgerald, M., & McKelvey, R. (2016, January 1). Nerve injury and neuropathic pain - A question of age. Experimental Neurology. Academic Press Inc. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.expneurol.2015.07.013