Area of Research
Behavioural neuroscience, pain, stress, sex differences, social interactions, empathy, emotional contagion, memory, synaptic plasticity
The research in my laboratory aims to understand how painful experiences modify the neural circuits and transmitter/peptide systems related to sensory, emotional, social and cognitive information. Bringing together mouse genetics, electrophysiology, viral tracing, pharmaco- and optogenetics we study the functional interrogation of these circuits within brain and spinal pathways. Our data and the data of others suggests that chronic pain alters synaptic transmission within distinct neural networks and resultant behavioural modifications are dependent upon where in the brain these changes occur. This has led us to investigate the modulation of these circuits by neuropeptides such as oxytocin and opioids to understand their involvement in pain empathy, social approach/avoidance and social analgesia. In a separate line of research, we use novel approaches to understand the learning mechanisms associated with the development of pain and anxiety as well as pain relief. If we are able to understand the processes by which these different functional dimensions of pain perceptions are generated and modified, in particular the circuits encoding negative affective states, then new dynamic frameworks for treating unrelenting chronic pain may be developed.