Can persistent pain be prevented? That’s the question we ask in the laboratory of biology professor, Lin Aanonsen. Specifically, we study how pain signals are communicated from the body’s periphery to the central nervous system, focusing on molecular changes in the spinal cord.
We know that for learning and memory to take place, the molecule PSA-NCAM must be present at the connection, or synapse, between neurons in the hippocampal region of the brain. Similarly, we hypothesize that PSA-NCAM must be present in the spinal cord for the pain signal to be encoded, especially during persistent pain.
In the lab, we use a genetic technique called RNA interference to decrease the production of PSA-NCAM in a murine model of peripheral inflammation. The goal is to determine if decreased spinal PSA-NCAM production in this model will block communication of the pain signal and thus prevent persistent pain.
As a science major at Macalester, my work in the lab is complemented by my other studies. Pain is interesting to me in terms of both my majors—biology and philosophy. While neurobiology and biochemistry provide an essential foundation, philosophy opens an avenue for exploring bioethics and metaphysics in relation to pain. As I work toward my goal of attending medical school, I am integrating what I learn in the lab with what I learn in classroom for a well-rounded education.