Early life stress induces sex-dependent increases in phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase in brains of mice with neuropathic pain

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Both early life stress and neuropathic pain induce morphological and functional abnormalities of the nervous system that are associated with emotional regulation. In our previous study, early life stress enhanced nerve injury-induced hyperalgesia in adult male and female mice. In the present study, using phosphorylated extracellular signal-regulated kinase (p-ERK) as a marker of neuronal activation, we examined the effect of early life stress on neuronal function following partial sciatic nerve ligation (PSL).


Early life stress was induced by maternal separation from 2 to 3 weeks of age and by social isolation after weaning (MSSI). Neuropathic pain was induced by PSL at 9 weeks of age, and p-ERK expression after light touch stimulation to the ipsilateral paw was measured using immunohistochemistry 1 week after nerve injury.


Although MSSI increased p-ERK expression in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) and amygdala of male mice, PSL did not affect p-ERK expression in control and MSSI mice. In female mice, increased p-ERK expression was observed in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and nucleus accumbens (NAc). Furthermore, p-ERK expression in the PVN and amygdala was increased in MSSI-PSL mice.


The present data suggest that early life stress sex-dependently and site-specifically increases neuronal activity in the brain. In addition, increased neuronal activity in multiplebrain regions of mice subjected to early life stress may enhance hyperalgesia after nerve injury.

What does this study add?:

Maternal separation and social isolation (MSSI) increased p-ERK in the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) and amygdala of male mice. MSSI increased p-ERK in the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens of female mice. Neuropathic pain increased p-ERK in the PVN and amygdala of female MSSI mice.

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