Neurobiology of Pain and Somatosensation

Pain plays an important role in protecting the integrity of the body. However, there are times when this protective mechanism becomes compromised, causing pain to persist long after the tissues have healed. Chronic pain affects over 100 million adults in the U.S. According to a study by the National Academy of Science (2011), chronic pain results in a tremendous loss to quality of life. It has been estimated to cost $635 billion in health care costs and inability to work, greater than the annual costs of heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. We have a very large, collaborative group of laboratories that focus on different aspects of the molecular and cellular mechanisms that cause pain as well as studies into potential therapies to reduce it. In addition, we have a faculty who also study the somatosensory systems more generally. Together, these laboratories add to the strength of pain research in the Graduate program in Neuroscience.

Research focuses are broad, and long-standing collaborations between laboratories provides a strong training environment for those interested in pain research. Research interests include: role of hormones in pain perception; the molecular and biochemical bases for cancer pain; spinal delivery of analgesics for pain control; biology of opioid-induced tolerance and addiction; neural mechanisms for painful and itch-producing stimuli; influences of stress, gender, and the immune system on pain production; design, synthesis, and biological evaluation of ligands as potential analgesic agents at opioid receptors; mechanisms underlying pain perception; neural encoding of cutaneous and muscle pain; role of sensory neurons in development of persistent pain; and neural mechanisms of hyperalgesia, analgesia, and analgesic tolerance. Somatosensory research includes: medical devices to characterize touch sensation changes in diabetes, cancer, and neuropathies; neural control of itch; biomechanics, haptic control of movements, proprioception and somatosensation; and neural interfaces for sensory loss.