All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Robert E Sorge

Advisory Committee Members

Franklin Amthor

Jennifer Deberry

Burel Goodin

Lyse Norian

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences


Chronic pain is the most common disability in the United States. Additionally, one out of three adults in America are obese and obesity and pain are often comorbid. Obesity is an inflammatory state due to the release of pro-inflammatory mediators from adipose tissue. Generally, obesity is a result of a poor-quality diet. Specific dietary components and patterns are independent activators of the immune system and can exacerbate the obesity-induced inflammatory state. It is known that immune system activation is a critical aspect in the development and progression of many chronic pain conditions. To address a general lack of preclinical investigations focused on diet-induced changes in pain and recovery from injury, our primary goal was to determine the effects of a poor-quality diet on behavioral and physiological measures of pain and inflammation. We utilized a novel standard American diet (SAD) developed by our group to represent the typical American diet. We observed that SAD-fed animals had more pronounced hypersensitivity and prolonged recovery following inflammatory injury. We next aimed to investigate the use of a novel anti-inflammatory diet (AID) as a preventative measure or an intervention to reverse the SAD-induced effects on pain and recovery. We found that prophylactic consumption of the AID promoted recovery, whereas, animals who were switched to the AID from SAD at the time of injury had a shorter recovery time than animals maintained solely on the SAD. To investigate more translatable diet patterns, we mimicked dietary “cheat days”. As above, long-term SAD consumption led to prolonged recovery. However, acute, repeated exposure to the SAD on weekends had similar detrimental effects on recovery to long-term exposure. Immune cells are highly involved in chronic pain. Therefore, using flow cytometry, we determined the impact of the SAD prior to and following surgical injury on immune cell populations in the spinal cord. Interestingly, animals that switched from the SAD to the AID had less T cell infiltration and macrophages following injury than those maintained on SAD. These data demonstrate how diet quality can regulate the immune system and support the use of an anti-inflammatory diet as an alternative treatment for pain.



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