Activating brain cells that alleviate pain



Chronic pain can be a debilitating condition affecting the daily lives of millions of people and preventing them from carrying out standard life activities. Understanding which neuronal populations and pathways are responsible for modulating the perception of chronic pain is important for the development of novel, non-addictive therapies and strategies for pain management that will improve patients’ quality of life.


IRP researchers led by Justin Siemian, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Yeka Aponte, Ph.D., discovered that a small group of neurons known as lateral hypothalamic parvalbumin-positive (LH-PV) neurons respond to both short-term and lasting irritation in mice. In addition, using an animal model in which certain behaviors are suppressed by pain, the research team showed that they could restore normal mouse behavior by activating those neurons using cutting-edge techniques that use light or lab-designed chemicals to stimulate specific neurons, known respectively as ‘optogenetics’ and ‘chemogenetics.’ Finally, they demonstrated that activating LH-PV neurons enhances the pain-alleviating effects of morphine.


Continued studies of this brain region and its neurons in rodents may provide a better understanding of the role of the human hypothalamus in regulating pain and whether this brain area could be targeted for novel pain therapies. In addition, the study’s results indicate that optogenetic and chemogenetic techniques may be useful for targeting this pathway in order to alleviate pain.


Siemian JN, Arenivar MA, Sarsfield S, Borja CB, Erbaugh LJ, Eagle AL, Robison AJ, Leinninger G, Aponte Y. (2021). An excitatory lateral hypothalamic circuit orchestrating pain behaviors in mice. eLife. May 27;10:e66446. doi:10.7554/eLife.66446.

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This page was last updated on Thursday, June 8, 2023