Mapping Pain’s Affective Component: Characterizing Neural Circuitry of the Basolateral Amygdala and Nucleus Accumbens

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Project Summary

Emily Lo

PURM Project Summary

Project Title- Mapping Pain’s Affective Component: Characterizing Neural Circuitry of the Basolateral Amygdala and Nucleus Accumbens

 

Prompt: Submit a brief summary (250-500 words) and photo(s) of your experience in conversational and accessible language (suitable for posting on the CURF website) at https://webform.curf.upenn.edu/research-experience  that describes:

-Your project’s goals and content

-What you learned through your research experience

-How participating in this research project contributed to your educational experience

 

This summer, I had the opportunity to conduct research under Dr. Gregory Corder, a professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at the Perelman School of Medicine. His lab uses mouse models to examine neural mechanisms that drive the experience of pain and how dysfunctions in such processes contribute to chronic pain. Recently, Dr. Corder and colleagues identified a subset of neurons in the basolateral amygdala (BLA), a brain region involved in negative emotional states, responsible for the unpleasant, negative affect component of pain. By increasing our understanding of the fundamental neural circuitry that drives pain perception, the Corder Lab aims to identify novel therapeutic targets and treatments to serve as alternatives to opioid analgesics.

 

To further characterize the neural circuits responsible for the negative affective component of pain, the goals of my project were twofold: 1) to quantify neurons activated by a painful stimulus in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), a brain region that receives neural input from the BLA; and 2) to identify neural regions that project to the BLA and are activated by pain. In my first project, we hypothesized neuronal activation in the NAc, measured with florescence in situhybridization for the immediate early gene cFos, would increase upon painful stimuli. I used Adobe Illustrator and FIJI programs to visualize and quantify neurons activated by pain, and found that a painful pin prick stimulus increased neuronal activation in the NAc.[NM1] I completed my second project [NM2] by injecting the BLA of transgenic mice with a virus that labels all neurons that project to the viral injection site. Additionally, this virus differentially labels inputs active during pin prick, allowing me to visualize the neuronal projections that likely contribute to this BLA pain circuit and the experience of pain. Together, my findings contributed to a larger, on-going study in the Corder Lab assessing the BLA and NAc circuit, and more broadly, to the field’s understanding of the localization of pain information processing in the brain.

 

Throughout this process, I learned many laboratory techniques, such as stereotaxic mice surgery, behavioral assays, brain slicing, and imaging, and intracardial perfusions.  In [NM3] addition to gaining a variety of technical laboratory skills, I had the chance to explore the intersection of neuroscience, philosophy, and public health through the field of pain neuroscience. As I consider careers in areas such as biomedical research and healthcare, I’m grateful that I had a chance to work on this engaging summer research project through PURM’s funding with the Corder Lab’s guidance and resources.