Neural and molecular pain processing in the spinal cord and brain of awake, behaving animals
Pain is a complex, multidimensional percept that initiates appropriate protective behaviors by integrating sensory information from the spinal cord with ongoing brain states. Yet, detailed mechanisms of pain-related sensorimotor transformations by the nervous system remain unclear, in part because almost all studies of “pain processing” at the spinal cord level relied on recordings in anesthetized or semi-intact preparations. I will discuss our new longitudinal, in vivo spinal cord calcium imaging in awake, behaving animals. We achieved near-daily, bilateral dorsal horn recording of neural activity; spinal cord somatotopy using large-scale imaging; and preservation of high-quality axonal and microglia imaging, for months to over a year. Using this approach, we tracked robust changes in microglia expression after sciatic nerve injury, beginning within days and persisting for weeks to months. In parallel, to understand the molecular changes that occur during the transition from acute to chronic pain and to identify new therapeutic targets, we characterized pain-related proteomes of each node in the pain neuroaxis—including the sensory ganglia, spinal cord, and brain. I will discuss how these techniques and findings integrate with our prior pain-related brain imaging studies that together define a theoretical and experimental framework to understand pain-related sensorimotor transformations and may identify novel pain-relief strategies.
Biafra Ahanonu is a HHMI Hanna H. Gray Fellow in Prof. Allan Basbaum’s lab at UCSF, who focuses on coding principals in awake, behaving animals as well as the molecular properties of pain-related neural circuits in normal and diseased states. He obtained his BSc (Course 7 & 9) from MIT and PhD from Stanford University (Biology, mentored by Prof. Mark Schnitzer) where he studied the neural coding of decision-making, locomotion, and pain processing in the striatum and amygdala and developed computational tools for calcium imaging analysis (e.g. CIAtah, see https://git.io/ciatah). Outside of the lab Biafra can be found hiking, playing sports, and reading/writing; find out more at bahanonu.com/about.
Rising Star Award
The Rising Stars Award in MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) is awarded to 2-3 postdoctoral scholars per year. Recipients are awarded based on their outstanding research accomplishments and their extraordinary potential to succeed as independent research faculty. This award also aims to enhance diversity and representation in the brain and cognitive sciences. Awardees receive a cash prize and are invited to present their research in the BCS Colloquium Series.
Followed by reception in the 3rd floor atrium with appetizers and drinks.