Imaging how pain interferes with information processing in other modalities.
Personal experience and psycho-physiological studies demonstrate that pain attracts attention and interferes with ongoing cognitive processes. To date, the exact neural mechanisms underlying this "interruptive function of pain" are unclear. This project aims to investigate whether and how pain modulates the processing of other stimuli in a complex sensory environment by means of functional MRI. The influence of pain processing on the visual system will be tested, where modulations by both bottom-up and top-down cognitive factors (e.g. attention and cognitive or perceptual load) have already been well characterized.
Facing their child's pain: the importance of parental empathy
As evidence accumulates on the interpersonal functions of pain, conceptualizations of pain as a predominantly sensory system are challenged. Recently, a model of empathy applied to pain has been developed. Based upon this model, this project aims to investigate determinants of parental empathy responses to observing their child's pain, in parents of schoolchildren and children with chronic pain, using observational methodology.
Functional imaging of C-fibre-induced plasticity within the human brain
Pathological activity of C-fibres is known to contribute to neuropathic pain symptoms like hyperalgesia and allodynia. Using functional MRI, I plan to investigate cerebral circuits involved in the induction of hyperalgesia by different C-fibre subtypes. Furthermore, I will investigate the effects of different C-fibres on cortical reorganisation, i.e. pain-induced alterations of the somatotopic map within the primary somatosensory cortex.
Erythermalgia as a model disease to assess contribution of Nav1.7 to small nerve fibre function and pain
Primary erythermalgia is a rare disorder characterized by recurrent attacks of red, hot and painful distal extremities. In some families with autosomal dominant primary erythermalgia and in sporadic cases, mutations of gene SCN9a have been found. SCN9a encodes the voltage-gated sodium channel Nav1.7, which is preferentially expressed in nociceptive and sympathetic neurons. The aim of this project is to analyse the SCN9A gene and functionally characterise possible sequence variants as well as to assess impairment of small nerve fibres in patients with primary erythermalgia. Correlation of functional genetic with clinical experimental data might help understand the role of Nav1.7 in small nerve fibre function and pain.
Interhemispheric inhibition in patients with complex regional pain syndrome type I
Complex regional pain syndrome type I includes clinically peripheral symptoms due to a noxious event at the distal part of an extremity. Changes in cortical plasticity seem to play a major pathophysiological role, as demonstrated by an asymmetry of the motor cortical representation between the affected and non-affected side. The aim of the project is therefore to examine the interhemispheric inhibitory activity.