M. Catherine Bushnell, Ph.D.

Scientist Emeritus

Pain and Integrative Neuroscience Laboratory (PAIN)


Building 10, Room 4-1741
10 Center Drive
Bethesda, Maryland 20892



Research Topics

Dr. Bushnell's research interests include forebrain mechanisms of pain processing, psychological modulation of pain, and neural alternations in chronic pain patients. Recent projects at McGill have utilized brain imaging and psychophysical testing to study the neural basis of pain processing, addressing both normal pain processing and aberrant processing after nervous system damage. Dr. Bushnell has authored over 100 publications in the field.


M. Catherine Bushnell, Ph.D., is Scientific Director of the Division of Intramural Research. Dr. Bushnell is responsible for establishing and overseeing a new, state-of-the-art program to be the focus of NCCIH’s intramural research, on the brain’s role in perceiving, modifying, and managing pain. The program will be highly collaborative and complement basic-science and clinical-research efforts across the NIH in neuroscience, imaging, and behavioral health.

Prior to her appointment at NCCIH, Dr. Bushnell was the Harold Griffith Professor of Anesthesia and professor in dentistry and neurology at McGill University, in Montreal, Canada. She was also director of the McGill Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain. In 2009, Dr. Bushnell was awarded a senior Canada Research Chair in Clinical Pain. She has been president of the Canadian Pain Society, and treasurer and press editor-in-chief of the International Association for the Study of Pain. Among her other honors are the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Pain Society and the Frederick Kerr Basic Science Research Award from the American Pain Society.

Dr. Bushnell holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in experimental psychology from the American University, Washington, D.C., and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park. She began her scientific career at NIH in 1976, at what is now the the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, exploring the psychological aspects of pain processing. She also received postdoctoral training in neurophysiology at NIH.

Selected Publications

  1. Thompson SJ, Pitcher MH, Stone LS, Tarum F, Niu G, Chen X, Kiesewetter DO, Schweinhardt P, Bushnell MC. Chronic neuropathic pain reduces opioid receptor availability with associated anhedonia in rat. Pain. 2018;159(9):1856-1866.
  2. Bushnell MC, Ceko M, Low LA. Cognitive and emotional control of pain and its disruption in chronic pain. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2013;14(7):502-11.
  3. Case LK, Laubacher CM, Olausson H, Wang B, Spagnolo PA, Bushnell MC. Encoding of Touch Intensity But Not Pleasantness in Human Primary Somatosensory Cortex. J Neurosci. 2016;36(21):5850-60.
  4. Villemure C, Ceko M, Cotton VA, Bushnell MC. Insular cortex mediates increased pain tolerance in yoga practitioners. Cereb Cortex. 2014;24(10):2732-40.

Related Scientific Focus Areas

This page was last updated on Friday, September 10, 2021