Unlike adults, infants can't tell you if they're in pain. Instead, clinicians must interpret behaviors such as crying and physiological measures such as heart rate to determine what a newborn is experiencing. Since these can occur for reasons unrelated to nociception, the pain field has long sought more objective ways to measure pain in this nonverbal population. Now, in a new study, investigators have identified pain-related brain activity in infants that could be measured with a simple electroencephalogram (EEG) recording and used the activity to create an EEG template that allowed them to test the efficacy of an analgesic.
A team led by Rebeccah Slater, University of Oxford, UK, found that the EEG template of brain activity correlated with the presence and intensity of pain-related behavior and validated the template across four independent samples of infants. Intriguingly, a topical analgesic dampened the brain signal, showing how the new approach could be used to assess the effect of pain medications in infants undergoing painful procedures.