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How does pain become chronic?

All of us are likely to know someone who suffers from chronic pain, be it back pain, migraine or arthritis. It is a very common condition with few treatment options. 

Research has revealed that chronic pain patients have an overly responsive nervous system. What is not clear is why this state should persist over long periods of time. Or whether some people are more vulnerable than others to develop chronic pain.

This laboratory is investigating the possibility that injuries or diseases which cause chronic pain might change a cell's epigenetic profile. 

Epigenetics is the process that determines which gene is expressed and where. Some epigenetic signals have direct functional consequences, while others are just primers: flags that indicate a potential to act or be modified. Alterations in epigenetics could therefore lead to the long-term changes in sensitivity we observe in pain.

Can cells have memory?

Imagine if your cells kept a record of the many innumerable events that you encounter throughout your life. Each bruise or bump would leave behind a tiny molecular footprint that could then influence a cell's response at a later date. 

We know that this can happen: immune cells acquire "memories" and recall them when needed. This laboratory is interested in finding out whether adult nervous system cells, such as microglia and neurons, might also be able to keep similar records, specifically in the context of chronic pain. 

To address these questions, we use transgenic models and high-throughput molecular analyses, such as RNA-seq and ChIP-seq, on sorted cell populations.