Nociception and pain

One of the essential functions of the nervous system is to give a sensing interface that provides information about the environment. The somatosensory system thus responds to changes on the surface or within the body, and when these environmental changes are harmful or potentially harmful, this nociceptive information can result in pain. This unpleasant experience involves several components (sensory discriminative, emotional, behavioural, cognitive and adaptive) and results from complex processing in sets of brain structures often referred to as the "pain matrix". While acute pain has an adaptive value, chronic pain is a pathological state that alters the quality of life and is often associated with co-morbid disorders (e.g. anxiety, depression, cognitive disorders, risk of addiction...).

Understanding and fighting pain

The NeuroPain research axis aims to decipher the complexity of pain and to develop new treatments according to three levels of study

  • understanding the biology and circuits of pain
  • understanding the comorbidities associated with pain
  • improving pain treatments

The Pain Initiative is one of the priorities of the fundraising campaign of the University of Strasbourg Foundation. In addition, the EURIDOL doctoral school provides the interface between academic training and research.

Research teams

Nociceptive signalling in the dorsal horn

Leader: Dr. Rémy SCHLICHTER
Research unit: Institute of Cellular and Integrative Neuroscience (INCI) UPR 3212

Our team studies the functioning of neural networks in the dorsal horn of the rodent spinal cord and, more specifically, nociceptive processes and pain. Our research concerns the modulation and integration of nociceptive information with a particular interest in neuron-neuron and neuron-glia interactions. In addition, the team is interested in sex-specific differences in analgesia and morphine tolerance by studying the metabolic differences of morphine in males and females. Many technical approaches at the molecular, cellular and integrated levels are used to perform these experimental studies. Cell culture models and acute slices of nervous tissue are used to perform electrophysiology, intracellular calcium imaging, biochemistry, and quantitative mass spectrometry approaches. The understanding of the circuits and their sex-specific differences also aims at identifying, in the long run, new and more selective therapeutic targets for the management and treatment of pain.

Chronic pain and mood disorder comorbidity

Leaders: Dr. Michel BARROT, Dr. Ipek YALCIN
Research unit: Institute of Cellular and Integrative Neuroscience (INCI) UPR 3212

Our research focuses on chronic pain, in particular neuropathic pain, which is caused by a lesion or pathology of the nervous system. We study the treatments, particularly antidepressants, as well as the affective and anxiety-depressive consequences. We also have a strong expertise in neuroanatomy and study the circuits underlying various components of pain, emotions and the control of aminergic systems.

Peptidergic control of emotions

Leader: Dr. Alexandre CHARLET
Research unit: Institute of Cellular and Integrative Neuroscience (INCI) UPR 3212

Our research focuses on understanding the cellular mechanisms underlying the regulation of emotions, from social interaction to pain and anxiety. We are exploring how central neuropeptides modulate the neuroglia network in emotion-related structures such as the amygdala. To this end, we combine ex vivo and in vivo electrophysiology, calcium imaging and behavioural approaches with genetic tools.

Plasticity of pain controls

Leader: Pr. Pierrick POISBEAU
Research unit: Institute of Cellular and Integrative Neuroscience (INCI) UPR 3212

Our basic and clinical neuroscience research team is interested in issues related to pain in the newborn and the adult. 1) Functional exploration of pain in newborns and adults: using preclinical models, in prematurely born children or in adults suffering from pathological pain, we conduct functional exploration of pain signs through changes in brain activity, autonomic parameters, motor activity, quality of life indexes and molecular and genetic biomarkers. 2) Ontogenesis of nociception: in preclinical models and in the preterm infant, we characterise the development of the nociceptive system in its different components (sensory, emotional and cognitive) in relation to the quality of the environment in the first days of life. 3) Neurodevelopmental consequences of early life stresses: using preclinical models and in human newborns, we analyse the respective impact of painful and (a priori) non-painful stresses on the health trajectory of newborns. In particular, we study the role of oxytocin and vasoactive intestinal peptide.

Drug abuse and neuroadaptation (DNA)

Leader: Dr. Katia BEFORT
Research unit: Laboratory of Cognitive and Adaptative Neuroscience (LNCA) UMR 7364

Our team is interested in the behavioural and molecular adaptations, notably epigenetic, that occur in addictive behaviours. We are studying the long-term effects of psychostimulants (cocaine), analgesic drugs (opioids and cannabinoids), and natural rewards (sugar, fat) on reward-related brain circuits. Certain consumption processes (alcohol intake, sweet and fatty foods) are particularly impaired in patients with chronic pain. We therefore wish to deepen our knowledge of the mechanisms involved in addictive behaviour in the context of pain pathology.

Cognitive neuropsychology and physiopathology of schizophrenia

Leader: Dr. Anne GIERSCH
Research unit: Inserm unit "Cognitive neuropsychology and physiopathology of schizophrenia" UMR_S 1114

Research into the pathophysiology of psychiatric illnesses involves understanding what enables us to be connected to our environment, to be able to tell our story, to pay attention to our environment, to perceive it and to react to it in an adapted way. The alteration of these mechanisms raises questions about memory and time, which are explored in the unit, as well as psychological suffering and addiction-related symptoms.

Neuropsychology and neurophysiology of normal and pathological ageing

Leader: Pr. André DUFOUR
Research unit: Laboratory of Cognitive and Adaptative Neuroscience (LNCA) UMR 7364

Our team is interested in the problems of pain and ageing according to two approaches: 1. Chronic pain and cognition in ageing: this work studies the origin of the greater vulnerability to chronic pain that elderly people with mild cognitive deficits seem to suffer. 2. Modification of pain perception with age: this work attempts to understand the mechanisms by which pain thresholds, particularly thermal, are increased in the elderly. All our studies are based on an electrophysiological approach (evoked potentials) and sensory quantification (Quantitative Sensory Testing).

Neuroprotection in Multiple Sclerosis and Myelin-Related Peripheral Neuropathies

Leaders: Pr. Jérôme DE SEZE and Pr. Guy MENSAH-NYAGAN
Research unit: Inserm unit "Myelin biopathology, neuroprotection and therapeutic strategies" UMR_S 1119

The objective of the Lab is to generate basic, preclinical and clinical data allowing the development of effective neuroprotective therapies against Neurological and Neurodegenerative Diseases (NND) which are major health concerns. We focus our efforts on relevant preclinical and clinical models of Peripheral Neuropathies (PN), Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO). Indeed, the neurologists of the Lab routinely provide care to patients affected by MS, NMO or PN (CIDP, CMT1A and chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy or CIPN).

Integrative Multimodal Imaging in Healthcare

Leader: Dr. Laura HARSAN
Research unit: Integrative Multimodal Imaging in Healthcare team (IMIS) within The Engineering science, computer science and imaging laboratory (iCube) UMR 7357

Channel receptors and their neuromediators: from biophysics to the development of opto-neuro-pharmacological tools for in vivo studies

Leader: Dr. Thomas GRUTTER
Research unit: Chemistry and Molecular Neurobiology team (CNM) within the Laboratory of Design and Application of Bioactive Molecules (LCAMB) UMR 7199

We work on ion channels (Piezo) and receptor channels (P2X) involved in many neurophysiological processes (pain, neurotransmission, sensory pathways). We study structure-function relationships and biophysical aspects and we design new molecular and chemical tools to better understand their mechanism of action. These tools also allow us to control the activity of these channels orthogonally in vivo. Dysfunction of these channels or channel receptors can trigger chronic pain or promote neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease.


ComptOpt - Behaviour and Optogenetics

Director: Dr. Mélanie KREMER

In coordination with the Chronobiotron UMS 3415, the "Behaviour and Optogenetics" or "ComptOpt" animal experimentation platform specialises in the study of behaviour in rodents, particularly in models and tests of pain and psychiatric pathologies. We combine these models and tests with surgical approaches (stereotactic surgeries) associated or not with genetic approaches (transgenic mice, siRNA, viral trangenesis, optogenetics, chemogenetics, etc.) to understand the biological bases of the behaviours studied. ComptOpt designs, develops, adapts and implements new methodologies (models, tests and protocols) in the context of animal biology research on pain and psychiatric disorders. It also coordinates the transfer of know-how in animal experimentation on these research themes.

Centre for Neurocognitive and Neurophysiological Investigations (Ci2N) UMS 3489

Director: Pr. André DUFOUR

A large part of the research conducted on the platform concerns the study of the mechanisms of normal and pathological cognitiveageing. Investigations are carried out both clinically (neuropsychological assessments) and electrophysiologically (measurements of brain activity by electroencephalography).

Read last issue