Dr. Mary Heinricher studies brainstem mechanisms of pain modulation. After receiving her PhD in Behavioral Neuroscience at Northwestern University, she went to UCSF for post-doctoral work with Dr. Howard Fields, and stayed there as faculty until her recruitment to Oregon Health & Science University in 1995 where she is a Professor of Neurological Surgery and Behavioral Neuroscience. Her work focuses on the properties of brainstem neurons that modulate pain by enhancing or suppressing transmission of nociceptive information from the spinal cord up to the brain. Using a combination of electrophysiology, optogenetics, behavioral testing, and pharmacological manipulation, her group has shown that the neural basis for bi-directional control of pain from the brainstem is two physiologically and pharmacologically distinct classes of neurons: 'off-cells,' which exert a net inhibitory effect on nociception, and “on-cells', which have a facilitating action. These neurons become sensitized in pathological pain states, such as following nerve injury or in chronic inflammation. She is now starting to ask how these brainstem pain-modulating systems interact with other sensory systems, and how they are engaged by higher centers to enhance or suppress pain, e.g., during stress or by non-somatic sensory stimuli.
- Oregon Health & Science University
- Portland, OR