Pain and Nociception
Lab. Head: Professor Martin Koltzenburg
Despite significant advances in our understanding of the neurobiology of nociception, pain continues to be a leading health problem and a significant area of unmet clinical need for novel analgesic drugs. Recent epidemiological surveys have revealed an overall prevalence of non-malignant pain of up to 20% in the general population.
Many of these pains are the symptoms of trivial, self-limiting conditions, but there remains a large number of individuals suffering unrelenting severe pain. Careful clinical studies have identified an abnormal sensitivity of primary sensory neurons as a major culprit in chronic states. As a consequence much of our research unit aims to understand the mechanisms determining the normal and abnormal excitability of nociceptors. For this we use a range of techniques such as a skin nerve in vitro preparation that allows the direct extracellular recording of individual cutaneous afferents.
Using dissociated cultured dorsal root ganglion we investigate cellular properties of nociceptors by ratiometric calcium imaging or whole cell patch clamp recordings. These functional studies are complemented by immunohistochemical investigations of the receptive terminals of primary afferents neurons in the skin.
Translating the insights from laboratory investigations into human research projects we also investigate the consequences of an abnormally increased nociceptor activity. This involves psychophysical techniques as well as studies of neurogenic vasodilation and nociceptive autonomic or motor reflexes.