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Research Outline      2014-10-16 16:21:42

My lab focuses on how humans percept somatosensory stimuli, with a special interest in pain. Using neuroimaging (MRI) complemented by electrophysiological and histopathological techniques, we investigate the neural mechanisms of physiological and pathological pain along the whole neural axis. We are interested in the distinctive neural signature of pain. Given the neural substrates for the cognitive aspects of pain as well as the role of emotion are unclear, we also work to reveal the mechanisms by which humans memorize pain and emotion influences pain processing.
Memory of pain and the effects of emotion
Human responses to pain are shaped by individual autobiographical experiences, and the mnemonic process of pain has been postulated to underpin chronic pain. Nevertheless, current understanding of memory is mainly based on experiments using verbal or visual stimuli, and the neural correlates for the mnemonic processing of pain are largely unknown. Our preliminary data showed a distinct cerebral network that provided temporary storage of pain memory trace, as compared to the retaining of a painless stimulus. In terms of emotion, how we react to an ongoing pain stimulus is affected by our emotional states, which can guide our behaviors for higher cognitive functions, such as planning and decision making. As such, we investigate why subjects with anxiety or depression are more sensitive to pain, and why people suffering from affective disorders are prone to chronic pain. Our preliminary results suggested that anxiety states modulated pain processing via the coupling of neural activity in pain-related brain regions. Our long-term goal is to gain insights into the cognitive aspects of pain as well as the influence of emotion, providing a neural basis on how our brain manipulates the complex nature of a painful stimulus.
Neural mechanisms of chronic pain
Although physiological pain motivates people to avoid the danger, chronic pain causes suffering and destroys quality of life. Neuropathic pain remains a therapeutic challenge and a misery sequel of many neurologic disorders, such as diabetes, herpes zoster, and stroke. A main feature of neuropathic pain is its diverse manifestations, including spontaneous pain, stimulus-evoked pain, and unpleasant abnormal sensation. Evidence from animal studies suggested that maladaptive responses of the brain play key roles in chronic pain, but the neural basis is largely unknown in humans. We start to reveal underpinning mechanisms and categorize these sensory features, with a long-term aim to disentangle pathomechanisms for the development and maintenance of chronic pain. The preliminary observation suggested a unique connectivity pattern of pain-processing areas in subjects with chronic pain. Research results would explain why only some but not all patients having nerve injuries manifest painful symptoms and provide a basis for drug development and monitoring of therapeutic effects of chronic pain in the future.