Posted on 03-01-2018

Effect of pain and glucose administration on brain development in premature babies

Preterm infants undergo many procedures in neonatal intensive care units, with oral glucose often being given as an analgesic. Procedural pain is associated with a myriad of long-term consequences. However, very little is known regarding the precise developmental influences of pain in neonates and whether glucose can mitigate these adverse effects.

To address this gap in knowledge, Dr. Steven Miller at the Hospital for Sick Children led a study to assess the impact of procedural pain and glucose exposure on brain development and neurodevelopment outcomes in 51 preterm babies. The authors performed functional resting-state MRI on the neonates three times over the duration of their stay at the hospital. At 18 months of age, the children underwent a standardized assessment of infant development. The authors found that exposure to painful procedures was associated with slower growth of the thalamus, basal ganglia and the overall brain. This correlation was more profound in females. Functional connectivity was also affected by exposure to pain.

Additionally, exposure to pain was related to impaired neurodevelopmental outcomes at 18 months of age. Unfortunately, administration of glucose during painful procedures did not prevent these developmental changes. Overall, this study demonstrates the huge impact procedural pain has on development and suggests that glucose is not sufficient to protect babies from these deficits. Furthermore, the results indicate that females may be more vulnerable to early pain exposure.

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