Chronic pain and itch present a major and growing challenge to clinical practice and basic science. In past decades, remarkable progress has been made in understanding molecular mediators that govern activity across pain and itch pathways. However, we still know little on how sensory information is transmitted and processed in the central nervous system. Sensory information is not just simply transmitted via specific sensory circuits or labeled lines. Rather, there are complex interactions among different modalities, such as itch suppressed by painful stimuli and pain inhibited by inputs from low threshold mechanoreceptors. Moreover, the same stimuli, such as innocuous mechanical stimuli, can produce pain following inflammation or nerve injury. Mapping the underlying circuits has been long considered as one of the great challenges for the somatosensory field. Our lab is focused on dissecting somatosensory circuits to process different modalities, such as pain and itch.
1. Identify spinal neurons transmitting thermal versus mechanical pain.
2. Identify spinal circuit transmitting mechanical itch.
3. Characterize the peripheral inputs for mechanical pain and itch.
4. Dissect descending pathways that modulate pain and itch.