Basic Sciences

Laboratory of Vertebrate Functional Brain Mapping

Women are at greater risk for experiencing many forms of functional pain disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome and interstitial cystitis. Our belief is that sex differences in pain sensitivity stems, at least in part, from differences in the brain’s processing of sensory stimuli. The Laboratory of Vertebrate Functional Brain Mapping has been applying brain imaging to this question in rodent models of human behavior and disease. A primary tool has been perfusion based mapping using the classic autoradiographic methods. Unique about our methods is that they allow us to evaluate changes in functional brain activation at high resolution at the circuit level across the entire brain. Our results in rodents show that females show greater modulation of the pain response by emotional regions of the brain, whereas males show a greater inhibitory response of these areas. These findings show remarkable similarities to reported sex differences in brain responses to painful stimuli in humans. Ongoing work examines the effect psychological stress has during early life when the brain is still developing its ‘wiring’, how this may affect an individual’s ability to process sensory stimuli in adult life, and how female and males may differ in their response. In collaboration with other investigators at the UCLA Center for Neurovisceral Sciences and Women’s Health, we are currently examining the role excitatory neurotransmitters, growth factors and the body’s stress hormone response play in shaping the brain’s ability to process sensory input. This work will help us understand the brain’s interaction with the body in chronic pain conditions.

Selected Publications:

  1. Wang Z, Guo Y, Bradesi S, Labus JS, Maarek J-M I., Lee K, Winchester WJ, Mayer EA, Holschneider DP, “Sex Differences In Functional Brain Activation During Noxious Visceral Stimulation In Rats”, Pain, 145(1-2):120-8, 2009, PMCID: PMC2756542.
  2. Sadler T, Nguyen P, Yang J, Givrad TK, Mayer EA, Maarek JM, Hinton DR, Holschneider DP, “Regional Cerebral Blood Flow Changes During Conditioned Fear In Adult Rats Exposed to Prenatal Stress”, Brain Research, 1385:163-74, 2011, PMCID: PMC3065538.
  3. Wang Z, Ocampo MA, Pang RD, Bota M, Bradesi S, Mayer EA, Holschneider DP “Alterations in Prefrontal-Limbic Functional Activation and Connectivity in Chronic Stress-Induced Visceral Hyperalgesia”, PLoS ONE, 8(3):e59138, 2013, PMCID: PMC3602545.