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Vanessa C Anseloni, PhD

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Neural & Pain Sciences



My research focus is on understanding the neurobiology of neonatal pain. Persistent pain is a grave problem in preterm, newborn and young infants. Neonates and young infants exhibit increased pain sensitivity. However, guidelines for pain management in neonates are still unclear, due to several factors such as (1) the little understanding of the neonatal system; and (2) the risk in administering the available anesthetics on the account of their side-effects (i.e., respiratory depression, apnea, and hypotension). The importance of pain management in neonates is increasing once recent findings pointed out that there are potential long-term effects that may impact the development of neuronal circuitry and its consequent cognitive and emotional alterations in adulthood. Findings of major importance for pain management show that gustatory and orotactile information trigger analgesic and calming effects in neonatal rats and humans. Gustatory-induced analgesia is a remarkable phenomenon that develops in seconds and lasts for minutes. Recent findings demonstrated that microlitter volumes of sucrose induce analgesia, which is age-dependent and opioid-mediated.

In collaboration with Drs. Dubner, Ren, Ennis, and Lidow, I have been investigating (1) the underlying mechanisms of gustatory- and orotactile-induced analgesia in neonates, and (2) the long-term effects of neonatal tissue injury in neonates. Anatomical, pharmacological and behavioral techniques are routinely performed in the lab.