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Measuring infant pain is complicated by their inability to describe the experience. While nociceptive brain activity, reflex withdrawal and facial grimacing have been characterised, the relationship between these activity patterns has not been examined. As cortical and spinally mediated activity is developmentally regulated, it cannot be assumed that they are predictive of one another in the immature nervous system. Here, using a new experimental paradigm, we characterise the nociceptive-specific brain activity, spinal reflex withdrawal and behavioural activity following graded intensity noxious stimulation and clinical heel lancing in 30 term infants. We show that nociceptive-specific brain activity and nociceptive reflex withdrawal are graded with stimulus intensity (p < 0.001), significantly correlated (r = 0.53, p = 0.001) and elicited at an intensity that does not evoke changes in clinical pain scores (p = 0.55). The strong correlation between reflex withdrawal and nociceptive brain activity suggests that movement of the limb away from a noxious stimulus is a sensitive indication of nociceptive brain activity in term infants. This could underpin the development of new clinical pain assessment measures.

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Brain, Electroencephalography, Electromyography, Humans, Infant, Newborn, Nociception, Nontherapeutic Human Experimentation, Physical Stimulation, Reflex, Spinal Cord