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Childhood neglect and abuse, whether physical or psychological, confers a lifetime vulnerability to stress, anxiety, and mood problems. Such early-life stress is also suspected to contribute to the development of chronic pain in adulthood.
In fact, there is growing concern that chronic pain syndromes may be a complication of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, this link is particularly challenging to study because many stressful events that produce PTSD also produce physical trauma. In addition, much of the research conducted in animals has not accurately reflected the early-life stress experienced by humans.
The research results can be found in Biological Psychiatry.
Inspired by a conversation with the violinist Itzhak Perlman, about students whose performance plateaued for unclear reasons, researchers led by Dr. Jon Levine at the University of California San Francisco, set out to rectify these gaps in understanding.
To do so, they used an animal model of maternal neglect that stresses rat mothers by restricting nesting/bedding material. These stressed rat mothers do not provide consistent levels of nurturing to their pups, i.e., the mothers are present but their care is unpredictable, resulting in increased levels of stress in the pups. The pups were otherwise not harmed or stressed.
"While it has been recognized for some time that early life events can shift homeostatic balance, predisposing adults to the development of chronic pain, that this could be mediated by a peripheral mechanism, involving the interaction between immune and neuroendocrine stress axes suggests novel approaches to detecting individuals at risk as well as to treatment of chronic pain," commented Levine.
"Chronic pain is a significant problem for people with PTSD. One reason for the co-occurrence of PTSD and pain is that the events that produce PTSD also may be associated with bodily harm. We have long known that childhood stress increases the vulnerability to PTSD. This new study also raises the possibility that early life stressors may increase the risk for pain syndromes," noted John H. Krystal, M.D., Editor of Biological Psychiatry.
The article is "Stress in the Adult Rat Exacerbates Muscle Pain Induced by Early-Life Stress" by Pedro Alvarez, Paul G. Green, and Jon D. Levine (doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.04.006). The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 74, Issue 9 (November 1, 2013), published by Elsevier.
The authors' affiliations, and disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article: John H. Krystal, M.D., is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, Chief of Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.
About Biological Psychiatry
The journal publishes novel results of original research which represent an important new lead or significant impact on the field, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Reviews and commentaries that focus on topics of current research and interest are also encouraged.
Biological Psychiatry is one of the most selective and highly cited journals in the field of psychiatric neuroscience. It is ranked 4th out of 135 Psychiatry titles and 13th out of 251 Neurosciences titles in the Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Reuters. The 2012 Impact Factor score for Biological Psychiatry is 9.247.
Original press release: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-11/e-tsr110413.php