Research ArticlePain

Nociceptive brain activity as a measure of analgesic efficacy in infants

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Science Translational Medicine  03 May 2017:
Vol. 9, Issue 388, eaah6122
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aah6122

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Reading babies’ minds to relieve pain

In the medical setting, infants and young children are often subjected to painful procedures requiring pain relief. However, the infants cannot use words or numerical scales to describe and rate their pain, and it is difficult to accurately assess and treat these patients. Hartley et al. report studies of full-term and late preterm infants who were exposed to medically necessary painful stimuli, experimental stimuli that were mildly noxious, and non-noxious control stimulation to derive a quantifiable encephalographic measure of pain-related brain activity. The measure was responsive to local analgesia, confirming its relevance for monitoring of pain relief.


Pain in infants is undertreated and poorly understood, representing a major clinical problem. In part, this is due to our inability to objectively measure pain in nonverbal populations. We present and validate an electroencephalography-based measure of infant nociceptive brain activity that is evoked by acute noxious stimulation and is sensitive to analgesic modulation. This measure should be valuable both for mechanistic investigations and for testing analgesic efficacy in the infant population.

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