University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston professor Volker Neugebauer has been awarded a four-year, $1.36 million grant by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke to conduct an innovative study of the relationship between pain and parts of the brain associated with cognitive thought and emotional response.
The goal of Neugebauer's study is to understand a process that causes hyperactivity in the amygdala, a key emotional center, leading to persistent pain and uncomfortable states like fear and anxiety. The investigation will focus on pain-induced disruption of nerve-signal traffic between the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain involved in so-called "executive" decision-making functions.
"Normally in the brain we have a balanced interaction between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, with the amygdala providing valuable emotion-based information to the cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex sending back signals that keep amygdala activity under control," Neugebauer said. "But abnormal pain input can trigger changes in the amygdala that enhance its output, overpowering the medial prefrontal cortex."
When this occurs, the medial prefrontal cortex loses the ability to control the amygdala, creating a vicious cycle of sustained disturbance.
"The amygdala activity continues independently of the original input, resulting in these persistent pain and emotion states," Neugebauer said. "We think this happens in chronic pain, and also in anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder, when the normal fear response persists abnormally. We're going to study the mechanics of this process, trying to identify specific targets that could allow us to regain control of amygdala activity."
To accomplish this objective, Neugebauer will conduct behavioral experiments and studies of brain electrical activity in laboratory rats that have been given experimental compounds
|Contact: Jim Kelly|
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston