Pain and Drug Addiction
Within: Discipline of Pharmacology
Head of laboratory
Our research teams focus on understanding the mechanisms of adaptations (“plasticity”) in neurons and synapses that develop as a result of pathological insults such as persistent pain states and drug addiction. Our goal is to understand key neural targets that contribute to the pathology of these “plasticity” diseases of the brain. This work is being undertaken by integrating molecular and cellular physiological methods in the nerve cells that form pain transmission and motivational pathways, together with animal behavioural models of these diseases. Understanding the mechanisms of pathological plasticity in nerves and synapses not only advances our knowledge of how the brain adapts to insult, but also provides new therapeutic opportunities for these largely intractable brain diseases.
In a national and international collaborative program, we are developing new medications (conopeptides) for treating acute and chronic pain conditions. As we identify novel plasticity targets, we are expanding the library of useful neurophysiological tools and potential therapeutic agents to inhibit pain pathways.
Our research also focuses on the mechanisms of tolerance and dependence to addictive drugs that develops in brain neurons during chronic therapy. Long-term medication with opioids or abuse produces tolerance, physical dependence and (in some people) addiction. We are investigating the mechanisms by which neuronal and synaptic membrane proteins drives both the loss of responsiveness to these drugs as well as the excessive excitation of nerve cells during opioid withdrawal. In future, new drugs that target these molecules may lessen opioid tolerance and alleviate withdrawal, both major clinical problems in pain management, as well as assist with the recovery from opioid addiction.