Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Victor May


Chronic pain alters sensory responses and carries a strong emotional component. Persistent pain can heighten pain experiences, resulting in hyperalgesia and allodynia. Further, patients suffering from chronic pain are more prone to experience a range of affective disorders including depression, sleep dysregulation, panic disorders, anxiety abnormalities and stress-related disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Hence while pain serves a protective function to prevent additional physiological harm by driving behavioral and cognitive responses, chronic or persistent pain can lead to maladaptive nociceptive responses and exacerbate psychopathologies. Among brain regions, the amygdala is centrally situated to integrate the many descending and ascending signals to modulate the sensory and emotional components of pain. The amygdala is well studied for its role in fear and stress-related behavioral processes. The central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA), and in particular the lateral capsular subdivision of the CeA (CeLC), receives prominent ascending pain neurotransmission via the spino- parabrachioamygdaloid tract. In this pathway, peripheral nociceptive signals carried via primary sensory Aδ- and C-fibers terminate in the dorsal horn where second order neurons send projections via the spino-parabrachial pathway to the lateral parabrachial nucleus (LPBn). Thus, the LPBn collects cutaneous (mechanical and thermal), deep (muscular and articular) and visceral nociceptive signals and relays the information in a highly organized manner principally to the CeLC for nociceptive processing. In pain, the CeA and the LPBn-CeLC projections have been shown to undergo plasticity in the forms of enhanced synaptic transmission and alterations in neurotransmitter and receptor expression. Accordingly, the neurocircuit intersections in the CeA can modulate the sensory and emotional responses to pain. Yet despite these associations, the mediators and mechanisms underlying the emotional consequences of pain are poorly understood.

Pituitary adenylate cyclase activating polypeptide (PACAP) is a neural and endocrine pleiotropic peptide important in the development and homeostatic regulation of many physiological systems. Recently, the expression of PACAP and its cognate PAC1 receptor has been shown to be upregulated in specific limbic regions by chronic stress. PACAP infusions into several limbic regions is anxiogenic, and altered blood PACAP levels and PAC1 receptor polymorphism have been associated with PTSD and other stress-related disorders. Here, we establish that CeLC PACAP originates from the LPBn as part of the spino-parabrachoamygdaloid pathway. Chronic pain enhanced PACAP expression along LPBn-CeLC projections, indicating it may be a component of pain- related plasticity. CeA PACAP signaling was sufficient to induce nociceptive hypersensitivity and anxiety-like behaviors. In a chronic neuropathic pain model, CeA PACAP signaling was found to contribute to heightened anxiety-like behaviors and nociceptive responses. Further, we characterized one prominent intracellular signaling mechanism through which CeA PACAP signaling influences these behaviors.

In these experiments we provide evidence that CeA PACAP signaling plays an important role in the emotional components of pain and that alterations in CeA PACAP signaling are part of pain-related plasticity. This work establishes novel molecular mechanisms that underlie the emotional component of pain and may contribute to the development of chronic pain and associated affective disorders.



Number of Pages

217 p.