Project ID NS-MH2023_17


Co Supervisor 1A IoPPN/Wolfson CARDWebsite

Co Supervisor 1B IoPPN/PsychologyWebsite

Could your brain be the ultimate painkiller? A translational study of how brain and body interact to modulate inflammation

Chronic pain is a complex and distressing problem affecting ~1 billion people world-wide – equivalent to the population of China. We know that how we think and feel about our bodies can influence pain perception and the risk of developing chronic pain. What we don’t know is how this works mechanistically. One explanation is that the brain harnesses the body’s immune response, modulating the level of inflammation (and consequently pain) we experience. This interdisciplinary project will leverage methods across psychology, neuroscience, and immunology to test this hypothesis and improve our understanding of how brain and body interact to modulate pain.

Aim-1. Synthesise what is known about how beliefs are related to immune function in chronic pain via a systematic literature review.

Aim-2. Explore how beliefs about the body modulate pain/acute inflammation using a bradykinin-evoked experimental medicine model in human volunteers.

Aim-3. Define how beliefs about the body shape neural and immune signatures in children with chronic pain.

This project bridges pre-clinical and clinical research and is co-supervised by an experimental psychologist (Heathcote) and neuroimmunologist (Denk), providing training in diverse techniques: systematic review; self-report and cognitive assessments; working with healthy volunteers and patients; flow cytometry/FACS/protein/RNA analysis of human blood/skin; human experimental pain models.

Year-1. Systematic review & set-up of human experimental pain model (bradykinin-evoked skin inflammation). Years-2-3. Conduct series of experimental model studies & analyse clinical dataset of children with chronic pain (includes psychological measures, neuroimaging & blood biomarker data).
Year-4. Manuscript preparation and preparation for future career (e.g., fellowship applications).

Representative Publications

Heathcote, L. C., Jacobs, K., Eccleston, C., Fox, E., & Lau, J. Y. F. (2017). Biased interpretations of ambiguous bodily threat information in adolescents with chronic pain. Pain, 158(3), 471-478.

Hore, Z. & Denk, F. (2019). Neuroimmune interactions in chronic pain – an interdisciplinary perspective. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 79, 56-62.