The mission of the lab is to define how chronic pain impacts affective and motivational circuitry in order to better understand this complex and multifaceted disease. Ultimately our work is geared towards identifying novel and improved treatment strategies.
Chronic pain is distinct from acute pain.
Acute pain is a necessary, physiologically relevant phenomenon that serves as a warning signal for actual or potential tissue damage. It engages a complex and dedicated circuitry within the peripheral and central nervous system in order to signal and control the sensation of pain. Importantly, it is generally well managed by established analgesics , such as NSAIDs or opioids.
Chronic pain, on the other hand, is acute pain that has spun out of control. It persists beyond any physiologically relevant purpose and becomes a disease state in and of itself. We now understand that chronic pain leads to adaptations in the sensory nervous system that distinguishes it from acute pain – a phenomenon that may contribute to its stubborn persistence in the face of the typical pharmacological armory – NSAIDS and opioids.
Pain is a multifaceted experience comprising sensory, emotional, and cognitive elements
One limitation to the classical approach to treatment of pain is the myopic focus on the sensory aspects of pain – how much it hurts and how can we make it hurt less. However, pain has an equally important affective (emotional) element – or how much the pain is bothersome. Over long periods of time, this engagement of affective processes can impact underlying mood states – as illustrated by the fact that depression is one of the most common co-morbidities with chronic pain. An emerging question is whether chronic pain can also induce adaptations in affective and motivational circuits that contribute to the severity and chronicity of this challenging disease.
Our current research is focused on understanding if and how chronic pain changes the structure and function of these affective and motivational circuits. And if so, are strategies that target these affective changes effective at treating chronic pain?