How does the gut microbiome contribute to chronic pain?
The human gastrointestinal tract is inhabited by millions of bacteria that are critical for normal gut function. Over the past decade, accumulating evidence has suggested that these bacterial populations (collectively known as the gut microbiome) are disrupted in many neurological conditions including mood disorders, autism, schizophrenia, and chronic pain. It is unclear if disease-related changes in bacteria drive symptoms in patients, or if microbial changes are merely a result of the underlying condition. Using fecal material transplant experiments, we directly investigate if and how the gut microbiome from various chronic pain models modulates sensory signaling in the peripheral and central nervous system. These experiments will increase our understanding of interoceptive processes and provide numerous opportunities for novel drug development.
How is sickle cell pain processed in the brain?
Sickle cell disease (SCD) is the most common genetic blood disorder in the world. Approximately 100,000 Americans, primarily those of African descent, suffer from this condition that is named for the rigid shape that red blood cells take in affected individuals. Pain is one of the primary symptoms of SCD and the leading reason that patients with this condition seek medical attention. Unfortunately, very little is known about how sickle cell disease pain is encoded within the central nervous system. A recent review identified only 4 brain imaging studies completed in patients with SCD, and only 3 papers have used transgenic mice to understand how the brain is involved in SCD pain. In our lab, we are investigating how the amygdala, a brain region traditionally associated with emotional processing, encodes acute and chronic sickle cell disease pain. Understanding how mood and pain information are simultaneously processed in this region will hopefully identify targets or strategies for lessening both disruptive symptoms in individuals with sickle cell disease.