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Mapping the role of ultrafast nociceptor fibres in pain perception – from first order neuron to cortex


   Institute of Life Course and Medical Sciences

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  Dr Andrew Marshall  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

The classical view of pain in humans is that it is signalled by slow-conducting, thinly myelinated (“fast” pain) or unmyelinated (“slow” pain) afferents. This has been challenged by our recent discovery of a population of fast-conducting cutaneous nerve fibres with properties indicative of nociceptive signalling, including high mechanical thresholds, a finding that has implications for the understanding nociception, nocifensive behaviour, and clinical pain states. This PhD will build on our discovery of these ultrafast nociceptors in human skin (https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/7/eaaw1297) by investigating and characterising their detailed response properties, spinal and cortical projections, as well as exploring how pain induced by activation of these afferents is modulated by gentle touch.

The successful candidate will join an established collaboration between researchers at the Pain Research Institute, University of Liverpool, UK and The Centre for Social and Affective Neuroscience, Linkoping University, Sweden and will spend time in both institutions. The student will receive training in the procedural and complex data analysis methods involved in single unit afferent recording using microneurography and psychophysical methods. There may also be exciting opportunities to utilise advanced imaging methods such as MRI and/or EEG.

The projects’ aims are to:

1)     Further characterise the peripheral response properties of ultrafast nociceptors, including response to chemical ligands and electrical stimulation, by recording directly from the fibres using the powerful method of microneurography

2)     By careful sensory evaluation of patients with defined spinal cord lesions, understand the central projection pathways of ultrafast nociceptors

3)     Explore how targeted activation of another afferent with normally anti-nociceptive properties, C-tactile afferent, impacts on the pain induced by activation of ultrafast nociceptors compared to slowly conducting nociceptor fibres.

This highly interdisciplinary project would suit students with a neuroscience, experimental psychology or engineering background. You will have at least a 2.1 and hold an MSc in a relevant undergraduate degree programme (e.g. Biological Sciences, Anatomy, Psychology, Computer Science, Engineering). Experience of neurophysiological recording and data analysis in context of a postgraduate degree course as well as experience in scripting languages (e.g. Matlab, R, Python etc) is desirable.

For questions about the project and to find out how to apply, with full details on eligibility, please contact Dr Andrew Marshall ([Email Address Removed]) in the first instance.


Funding Notes

The project is jointly funded by the Pain Relief Foundation, Liverpool, UK and Linkoping University, Sweden.

References

Nagi SS, Marshall AG, Makdani A, Jarocka E, Liljencrantz J, Ridderström M, Shaikh S, O'Neill F, Saade D, Donkervoort S, Foley AR, Minde J, Trulsson M, Cole J, Bönnemann CG, Chesler AT, Bushnell MC, McGlone F, Olausson H. An ultrafast system for signaling mechanical pain in human skin. Sci Adv. 2019 Jul 3;5(7):eaaw1297. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw1297. PMID: 31281886; PMCID: PMC6609212.