Date of Award

Fall 8-27-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Neuroscience Institute

First Advisor

Anne Z. Murphy, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Tracy L. Bale, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Laura L. Carruth, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Bradley M. Cooke, Ph.D.


Approximately 1 in 6 infants are born prematurely each year. Typically, these infants spend 25 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where they experience 10-18 painful and inflammatory procedures each day. Remarkably, pre-emptive analgesics and/or anesthesia are administered less than 30% of the time. Unalleviated pain during the perinatal period is associated with permanent decreases in pain sensitivity, blunted cortisol responses and high rates of neuropsychiatric disorders. To date, the mechanism(s) by which these long-term changes in stress and pain behavior occur, and whether such alterations can be prevented by appropriate analgesia at the time of injury, remains unclear. We have previously reported in rats that inflammation experienced on the day of birth permanently upregulates central opioid tone, resulting in a significant reduction in adult pain sensitivity. However, the impact on early life pain on anxiety- and stress-related behavior and HPA axis regulation is not known. Therefore the goal of this dissertation was to determine the long-term impact of a single neonatal inflammatory pain experience on adult anxiety- and stress-related responses. Neuroanatomical changes in stress-associated neurocircuits were also examined. As the endogenous pain control system and HPA axis are in a state of exaggerated developmental plasticity early in postnatal life, and these systems work in concert to respond to noxious or aversive stimuli, this dissertation research aimed to answer the following questions: (1) Does neonatal injury produce deficits in adult stress-related behavior and alter stress-related neuroanatomy through an opioid-dependent mechanism? (2) Does neonatal injury alter receptor systems regulating the activation and termination of the stress response in adulthood? (3) Are stress- and pain-related neurotransmitters altered within the first week following early life pain? (4) Is early activation of the pain system necessary for the long-term changes in anxiety- and stress-related behavior? Together these studies demonstrate the degree, severity and preventability of the long-term deficits in stress responding associated with a single painful experience early in life. The goal of this research is to promote change in the treatment of infant pain in the NICU to reduce long-term sensory and mental health complications associated with prematurity.