Opioid-mediated changes in nociceptive threshold during pregnancy and parturition in the sow

S. Jarvis, K. A. McLean, J. Chirnside, L. A. Deans, S. K. Calvert, V. Molony, A. B. Lawrence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study aimed to investigate if pregnancy-induced hypoalgesia occurs in the sow, and to examine the role of endogenous opioids which are known to be released in response to nociception. Sixteen Large White x Landrace multiparous sows were tested in straw bedded pens (2.5 x 2.5 m) during weeks 4, 8 and 12 of pregnancy and over the farrowing period. Testing involved thermal stimulation of eight areas on the rear-quarters of the sows with a CO 2 infra-red laser until a physical response was seen (tail flick, leg move or muscle twitch) or for a maximum of 16 s. Over the farrowing period testing was more frequent, and at 3.75 h after the birth of the first piglet, half the sows received an injection (i.m.) of an opioid antagonist naloxone (N) (1 mg kg -1 body weight) with the remainder receiving a control dose of saline (S). Responses were recorded 15 and 30 rain post-injection. There was no significant difference between response times over weeks 4, 8 and 12 of pregnancy (P = 0.152), however a significant rise was seen from week 12 to 5 days before parturition (P = 0.002). Response times continued to rise until the birth of the first piglet by which time the majority of sows had stopped responding within 16 s (P < 0.001). Response times fell over days 1, 2 and 7 post-partum. After administration of naloxone response times fell compared to control animals at 15 min (P < 0.001) and 30 min (P < 0.01) post-injection. These results suggest that nociceptive threshold increases during late pregnancy in the sow, perhaps as an endogenous defence against labour pain, and that during parturition this change in nociceptive threshold is, at least in part, opioid-mediated. Oxytocin is known to be inhibited by endogenous opioids at parturition, thus future research should consider the potential role of increased nociception at birth as a negative feedback to oxytocin release.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-159
Number of pages7
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Hypoalgesia
  • Opioids
  • Pain
  • Parturition
  • Pregnancy
  • Sow

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