Shining a Light on Pain Mechanisms
Chronic pain is a debilitating condition that affects between 20 and 30 per cent of adult Canadians. It leads to reduced quality of life and can also result in other health issues, such as depression.
The disease’s high prevalence, together with the lack of effective treatment options, underscores a pressing need for better pain therapies. As Canada Research Chair in Molecular Neuroscience, Dr. Gerald Zamponi is looking to calcium channels—which play an important role in processing and transmitting pain signals—as a way to identify new pain therapeutics.
Zamponi and his research team are looking at how calcium channels regulate pain signalling. Specifically, they are focusing on three aspects of calcium channel function and dysfunction in the pain pathway: the regulation of afferent fibre excitability (i.e., the neurons that receive information from our sensory organs and transmit it to the central nervous system); the regulation of neurotransmission at dorsal horn synapses (where pain impulses enter the spinal cord); and information processing in higher central nervous system centres.
They are also using optogenetics approaches to study how brain circuits are altered during chronic pain states and how manipulating these circuits can bring pain relief.
By shedding light on the mechanisms that underlie nerve-to-nerve communication in the central nervous system, Zamponi’s findings could advance our understanding of brain function at the molecular level. Ultimately, this will result in the development of better therapeutics, improving the health and well-being of those suffering from chronic pain.