Synaptic Physiology and Plasticity Laboratory

Head of laboratory

  • Dr Elena Bagley

Dr Bagley’s lab focuses on understanding the changes in neuronal excitability and synaptic properties that underlie the development of chronic pain and drug addiction.

Whilst acute pain provides important warnings about dangers in our environment persistent or chronic pain is a debilitating condition that affects 20% of Australians and can be difficult to treat with existing therapies. One synaptic pathway that is critical for persistent pain is the spino-parabrachial-amygdala pathway. This pathway delivers nociceptive information to the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) and is critical for the development of persistent pain states. We are interested in how the delivery of nociceptive information via the spino-parabrachial pathway is altered by painful experiences. An understanding of the plastic changes in this pathway that may underlie the development of chronic/persistent pain could allow development of new therapeutic approaches.

Our research also investigates the changes that occur during chronic drug use and lead to the development of drug dependence and drug addiction. Of particular interest is the neuronal plasticity that underlies the opioid withdrawal syndrome. This withdrawal syndrome is initiated at least in part, by the midbrain and thus we focus on the changed activity of proteins involved in neuronal excitability and synaptic function in this area, such as GABA transporter. The opioid withdrawal syndrome is a major impediment to cessation of chronic opioid use. An understanding of the molecular mechanisms for its initiation may allow development of new therapies that increase the success of opioid cessation.