Surgical incision during the neonatal period selectively decreases glycinergic synaptic transmission within lamina II of the adult spinal cord.
Tissue injury during a critical period of early postnatal development can alter pain sensitivity throughout life. However, the degree to which neonatal tissue damage exerts prolonged effects on synaptic signaling within adult spinal nociceptive circuits remains unknown. Here we provide evidence that a transient surgical injury of the hind paw during the neonatal period compromises inhibitory transmission within the adult mouse superficial dorsal horn (SDH), while the same incision occurring during the third week of life failed to evoke these long-term modifications of the SDH synaptic network. The decrease in phasic inhibitory signaling after early tissue damage reflected a selective reduction in glycine receptor (GlyR)-mediated input onto both GABAergic and presumed glutamatergic neurons within lamina II of the adult SDH. Meanwhile, neonatal incision significantly decreased the density of tonic GlyR-mediated current only in the presumed glutamatergic population during adulthood. These persistent changes in synaptic function following early injury occurred in the absence of significant alterations in the transcription of genes known to be important for glycinergic transmission. These findings suggest that aberrant sensory input during early life has permanent consequences for the functional organization of nociceptive synaptic circuits within the adult spinal cord.