Burman Collaborative research featured at international conference

Michael Burman
Michael Burman, Ph.D.

In October, Michael Burman, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology in the University of New England’s School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, presented his research on early life stress as part of a panel discussion at the International Society for Developmental Psychology Conference.

Burman took part in the panel discussion, “Early life stress exposure yields persistent physiological, morphological, and behavioral changes in preclinical rodent models,” during which he gave his own presentation, “Amygdala CRF cells mediate the effects of neonatal pain on subsequent stress-induced tactile hypersensitivity.”

The presentation highlighted work done by The Burman Collective at UNE to examine changes in the brain caused by painful procedures — similar to those that might be done without analgesics in babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) — and included work done by undergraduate student Mariah Berchulski (Neuroscience, ’21) and graduate student Erica Russo (M.S. Biological Sciences, ’21).

Previous data has shown a correlation between time spent in the NICU and subsequent anxiety disorders and chronic pain; The Burman Collaborative is working to determine a biological mechanism that may explain the predisposition.

One possible mechanism the team has been focused on is a population of cells that express corticotropin releasing hormone (CRH), a hormone often associated with stress, in the amygdala, a part of the brain that is involved in emotional processing.

UNE researchers have found that neonatal pain drives CRH expression and produces behavioral changes in anxiety that persist at least until the juvenile stage that are dependent upon this hormone, but only in male rats. The Burman Collaborative is the first to demonstrate that these cells might serve as the mechanism for the connection between neonatal pain and juvenile anxiety disorders and to demonstrate a strong sex difference in pain/stress processing at such an early age.

“The larger scientific community is really starting to realize the importance of early life stress and trauma on later life mental and physical health outcomes. This was an exciting opportunity to participate in a panel by a variety of experts discussing how early life stress affects brain development and later life behavior,” Burman said of the event.

Burman also emphasized that many of the other speakers at the event are finding sex differences in the later effects of neonatal stress.

“This will set the stage for important future research understanding how early life trauma affects men and women differently,” he stated.