A high-fat high-sugar diet and adversity early in life modulate pain outcomes at the behavioural and molecular level in adolescent rats: The role of sex

Sabrina Salberg, Glenn R. Yamakawa, Jaimie K. Beveridge, Melanie Noel, Richelle Mychasiuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Given that adolescence is a significant period of brain plasticity and development, early life factors have the potential to alter long term outcomes. For instance, adversities such as consumption of a high-fat high-sugar (HFHS) diet and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs; e.g., neglect), and their resulting inflammation and microglial activation can influence pain outcomes by priming the neuroimmune system to overrespond to stressors. Chronic pain is highly prevalent amongst the adolescent population, with the prevalence and manifestation being sexually dimorphic. Although clinical studies show that females are twice as likely to report pain problems compared to males, the majority of pre-clinical work uses male rodents. Therefore, our aim was to examine the effects of sex, a HFHS diet, and an ACE on chronic pain outcomes following a stressor in adolescence. Rat dams were randomly assigned to a Standard or HFHS diet, with pups maintained on their respective diets then randomly allocated to a No Stress or ACE paradigm, and a Sham or Injury condition as a stressor. Results showed that early life adversities increased nociceptive sensitivity, inflammation, and microglial activation systemically and within the brain. Behaviourally, pain outcomes were more prominent in females, however the neuroimmune response was exacerbated in males. These results demonstrate the sexual dimorphism of chronic pain outcomes following early life adversities and provide insight into the mechanisms driving these changes, which will inform more targeted and effective treatment strategies for youth living with chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-79
Number of pages23
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023


  • Chronic pain
  • Early life adversity
  • Gene expression
  • Inflammation
  • Microglia
  • Nociception
  • Sex differences

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