Richard Hakim Rose Hills
Optogenetic Control of Peripheral Nociceptor Activity
How do our brains create the perception of pain? In order to study this question, researchers need a way of controlling the stimulus while looking at circuits in the brain. Unfortunately, inducing pain in animal models causes tissue damage and immune responses, which makes interpreting responses difficult. My current project seeks to develop a method of controlling the firing patterns of the neurons that sense painful heat. We employ the new and promising technique of optogenetics, which allows us to control the firing patterns of desired neurons using light. I will be using mice that posses specially engineered genes that allow for specific populations of neurons to fire in response to red light; since these neurons have their sensory endings in the skin, shining high intensity red light on certain skin areas should activate the pain signals and evoke a behavioral response.