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Institute for Infectious & Inflammatory Diseases

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Featured Project

Molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying chronic pain and opioid tolerance

Yuanxiang Tao, MD, PhD
Professor and Vice Chair of Research
  |  Department of Anesthesiology

Research in my lab focuses on understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie chronic pain and opioid-induced analgesic tolerance and hyperalgesia.

Chronic pain is a major public health problem. Despite intensive research into the neurobiological mechanism of chronic pain during the past decades, our understanding of chronic pain is still in its infancy and its treatment is often poorly managed by current drugs. Opioids are still the gold standard for chronic pain management in the clinical setting. However, the long-term use of the opioids produces opioid analgesic tolerance, opioid-induced hyperalgesia, and other side effects.

Thus, uncovering the mechanisms underlying chronic pain and opioid-induced tolerance and hyperalgesia may develop novel therapeutic strategies for prevention and/or treatment of these disorders.

Research projects in my laboratory have attempted to address questions regarding two different aspects of pain and opioid analgesia: (1) how neuronal PDZ domain-containing scaffolding proteins participate in the development and maintenance of chronic pain and opioid-induced analgesic tolerance and hyperalgesia and (2) how peripheral noxious stimuli change glutamate receptor subunit trafficking at synaptic and extrasynaptic sites of dorsal horn neurons and whether these changes are required for chronic pain induction and expression.

We have made considerable measurable progress, including two approved patents and one pending patent resulting from these studies. Ongoing projects include: (1) Identification of long noncoding RNAs and their involvements in chronic pain; (2) Translational regulation that underlies chronic opioid tolerance and hyperalgesia; (3) Gene transcriptional changes in chronic pain; and (4) Molecular mechanisms of sickle cell disease-associated pain. The analytical methodology includes molecular biology, morphology, biochemistry, electrophysiology, and behavioral tests.