Université de Strasbourg

Oxytocin and pain

Deciphering the oxytocinergic neuronal population involved in the pain matrix

USIAS Fellow: Alexandre Charlet
Post-doc: Mai Isawaki

Pain is a complex phenomenon involving several brain structures grouped together in the “pain matrix”. The key structures responsible for the emotional aspect of pain, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the central amygdala (CeA), are innervated by axonal hypothalamic oxytocin (OT) projections. Based on the new possibilities offered by virus manipulations, we propose to perform a fine spatio-temporal identification and functional characterization of OT projections to the ACC and the CeA activated during a painful episode. Key assets to the project are the use (i) of optogenetic manipulation of the OT population and (ii) of the vGAIT approach in order to flag and manipulate pain-activated OT neurons.

If successful, this USIAS project will provide a major contribution to our understanding of the role of oxytocin in pain processing in key structures of the pain matrix. We expect that our integrative analyses, from virus engineering to behavioural studies, will clearly decipher the involvement of oxytocin neurons in pain.

We expect that besides the results obtained on oxytocin, this study will result in the generalization of optogenetic tools for neuropeptides. Indeed, though optogenetics is nowadays widely used, only a few studies concern neuropeptides because of the challenge it represents.

Additionally, our results will shed light on our general comprehension of the pain matrix operations, resulting in a potentially more adapted treatment of patients suffering from chronic pain. A better understanding of pain processing will be of tremendous importance for the scientific and clinical fields.

France 2030