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1.  Pain Sensitivity and Opioid Analgesia: A Pharmacogenomic Twin Study 
Pain  2012;153(7):1397-1409.
Opioids are the cornerstone medication for the management of moderate to severe pain. Unfortunately, vast inter-individual differences in dose requirements complicate their effective and safe clinical use. Mechanisms underlying such differences are incompletely understood, are likely multifactorial, and include genetic and environmental contributions. While accumulating evidence suggests that variants of several genes account for some of the observed response variance, the relative contribution of these factors remains unknown. This study used a twin paradigm to provide a global estimate of the genetic and environmental contributions to inter-individual differences in pain sensitivity and analgesic opioid effects. Eighty one monozygotic and 31 dizygotic twin pairs successfully underwent a computer-controlled infusion with the muopioid agonist alfentanil in a single occasion, randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled study design. Pain sensitivity and analgesic effects were assessed with experimental heat and cold pressor pain models along with important covariates including demographic factors, depression, anxiety, and sleep quality. Significant heritability was detected for cold pressor pain tolerance and opioid-mediated elevations in heat and cold pressor pain thresholds. Genetic effects accounted for 12–60% of the observed response variance. Significant familial effects accounting for 24–32% of observed variance were detected for heat and cold pressor pain thresholds and opioid-mediated elevation in cold pressor pain tolerance. Significant covariates included age, gender, race, education, and anxiety. Results provide a strong rationale for more detailed molecular genetic studies to elucidate mechanisms underlying inter-individual differences in pain sensitivity and analgesic opioid responses. Such studies will require careful consideration of the studied pain phenotype.
PMCID: PMC3377769  PMID: 22444188
2.  Aversive and Reinforcing Opioid Effects: A Pharmacogenomic Twin Study 
Anesthesiology  2012;117(1):22-37.
The clinical utility of opioids is limited by adverse drug effects including respiratory depression, sedation, nausea, and pruritus. In addition, abuse of prescription opioids is problematic. Gaining a better understanding of the genetic and environmental mechanisms contributing to an individual’s susceptibility to adverse opioid effects is essential to identify patients at risk.
A classical twin study paradigm provided estimates for the genetic and familial (genetic and/or shared environment) contribution to acute adverse and affective opioid responses; all secondary outcomes of a larger data set. One hundred and twenty one twin pairs were recruited in a single occasion, randomized, double-blind and placebo controlled study. The mu-opioid receptor agonist alfentanil and saline placebo were administered as target-controlled infusions under carefully monitored laboratory conditions. Measured outcomes included respiratory depression, sedation, nausea, pruritus, drug liking and drug disliking. Demographic information was collected, and aspects of mood and sleep were evaluated.
Significant heritability was detected for respiratory depression (30%), nausea (59%) and drug disliking (36%). Significant familial effects were detected for sedation (29%), pruritus (38%), dizziness (32%), and drug liking (26%). Significant covariates included age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, mood and depression. Covariates affected sedation, pruritus, drug liking and disliking, and dizziness.
This study demonstrates that large scale efforts to collect quantitative and well-defined opioid response data are not only feasible but also produce data that are suitable for genetic analysis. Genetic, environmental and demographic factors work together to control adverse and reinforcing opioid responses, but contribute differently to specific responses.
PMCID: PMC3428265  PMID: 22713632
3.  Integrative Approach to Pain Genetics Identifies Pain Sensitivity Loci across Diseases 
PLoS Computational Biology  2012;8(6):e1002538.
Identifying human genes relevant for the processing of pain requires difficult-to-conduct and expensive large-scale clinical trials. Here, we examine a novel integrative paradigm for data-driven discovery of pain gene candidates, taking advantage of the vast amount of existing disease-related clinical literature and gene expression microarray data stored in large international repositories. First, thousands of diseases were ranked according to a disease-specific pain index (DSPI), derived from Medical Subject Heading (MESH) annotations in MEDLINE. Second, gene expression profiles of 121 of these human diseases were obtained from public sources. Third, genes with expression variation significantly correlated with DSPI across diseases were selected as candidate pain genes. Finally, selected candidate pain genes were genotyped in an independent human cohort and prospectively evaluated for significant association between variants and measures of pain sensitivity. The strongest signal was with rs4512126 (5q32, ABLIM3, P = 1.3×10−10) for the sensitivity to cold pressor pain in males, but not in females. Significant associations were also observed with rs12548828, rs7826700 and rs1075791 on 8q22.2 within NCALD (P = 1.7×10−4, 1.8×10−4, and 2.2×10−4 respectively). Our results demonstrate the utility of a novel paradigm that integrates publicly available disease-specific gene expression data with clinical data curated from MEDLINE to facilitate the discovery of pain-relevant genes. This data-derived list of pain gene candidates enables additional focused and efficient biological studies validating additional candidates.
Author Summary
The mechanisms underlying pain are incompletely understood, and are hard to study due to the subjective and complex nature of pain. From a genetics perspective, the discovery of genes relevant for the processing of pain in humans has been slow and genome-wide association studies have not been successful in yielding significantly associated variants. Targeted approaches examining specific candidate genes may be more promising. We present a novel integrative approach that combines publicly available molecular data and automatically extracted knowledge regarding pain contained in the literature to assist the discovery of novel pain genes. We prospectively validated this approach by demonstrating a significant association between several newly identified pain gene candidates and sensitivity to cold pressor pain.
PMCID: PMC3369906  PMID: 22685391
4.  Functional Neuroimaging to Characterize Visual System Development in Children with Retinoblastoma 
Functional MRI and diffusion tensor imaging in children being treated for retinoblastoma showed that patterns of visual activation and diffusion parameters in associated white matter pathways reflected neural changes caused by disease and treatment.
To use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to investigate visual system development in children being treated for retinoblastoma.
Informed consent was obtained for all participants (N = 42) in this institutional review board–approved study. Participants were imaged with a 1.5-T scanner while under propofol sedation. Diagnostic brain and orbital imaging was followed by investigational functional neuroimaging, which included fMRI during photic stimulation through closed eyelids, to measure functional activation in the visual cortex, and DTI, to evaluate diffusion parameters of white matter tracts in the corpus callosum and the periventricular optic radiations. Analysis included 115 examinations of 39 patients with a median age of 16.4 months and age range from 1.5 to 101.5 months at first evaluation.
The blood oxygen level–dependent signal was predominantly negative and located in the anterior visual cortex. Activation was affected by tumor lateralization (unilateral or bilateral), macular involvement, and retinal detachment. Patients who had undergone unilateral enucleation showed cortical dominance corresponding to the projection from the nasal hemiretina in the unaffected eye. Diffusion parameters followed a normal developmental trajectory in the optic radiations and corpus callosum, but variability was greater in the splenium than in the genu of the corpus callosum.
Longitudinal functional neuroimaging demonstrated important effects of disease and treatment. Therefore, fMRI and DTI may be useful for characterizing the impact of retinoblastoma on the developing visual system and improving the prediction of visual outcome in survivors.
PMCID: PMC3088553  PMID: 21245407
5.  Determining heat and mechanical pain threshold in inflamed skin of human subjects 
In a previous article in the Journal of Visualized Experiments we have demonstrated skin microdialysis techniques for the collection of tissue-specific nociceptive and inflammatory biochemicals in humans. In this article we will show pain-testing paradigms that are often used in tandem with microdialysis procedures. Combining pain tests with microdialysis provides the critical link between behavioral and biochemical data that allows identifying key biochemicals responsible for generating and propagating pain.
Two models of evoking pain in inflamed skin of human study participants are shown. The first model evokes pain with aid of heat stimuli. Heat evoked pain as described here is predominantly mediated by small, non-myelinated peripheral nociceptive nerve fibers (C-fibers). The second model evokes pain via punctuated pressure stimuli. Punctuated pressure evoked pain is predominantly mediated by small, myelinated peripheral nociceptive nerve fibers (A-delta fibers). The two models are mechanistically distinct and independently examine nociceptive processing by the two major peripheral nerve fiber populations involved in pain signaling.
Heat pain is evoked with aid of the TSA II, a commercially available thermo-sensory analyzer (Medoc Advanced Medical Systems, Durham, NC). Stimulus configuration and delivery is handled with aid of specific software. Thermodes vary in size and shape but in principle consist of a metal plate that can be heated or cooled at various rates and for different periods of time. Algorithms assessing heat-evoked pain are manifold. In the experiments shown here, study participants are asked to indicate at what point they start experiencing pain while the thermode in contact with skin is heated at a predetermined rate starting at a temperature that does not evoke pain. The thermode temperature at which a subject starts experiencing pain constitutes the heat pain threshold.
Mechanical pain is evoked with punctuated probes. Such probes are commercially available from several manufacturers (von Frey hairs). However, the accuracy of von Frey hairs has been criticized and many investigators use custom made punctuated pressure probes. In the experiments shown here eight custom-made punctuated probes of different weights are applied in consecutive order, a procedure called up-down algorithm, to identify perceptional deflection points, i.e., a change from feeling no pain to feeling pain or vice versa. The average weight causing a perceptional deflection constitutes the mechanical pain threshold.
PMCID: PMC2763295  PMID: 19229176
6.  Proximal dentatothalamocortical tract involvement in posterior fossa syndrome 
Brain  2009;132(11):3087-3095.
Posterior fossa syndrome is characterized by cerebellar dysfunction, oromotor/oculomotor apraxia, emotional lability and mutism in patients after infratentorial injury. The underlying neuroanatomical substrates of posterior fossa syndrome are unknown, but dentatothalamocortical tracts have been implicated. We used pre- and postoperative neuroimaging to investigate proximal dentatothalamocortical tract involvement in childhood embryonal brain tumour patients who developed posterior fossa syndrome following tumour resection. Diagnostic imaging from a cohort of 26 paediatric patients previously operated on for an embryonal brain tumour (13 patients prospectively diagnosed with posterior fossa syndrome, and 13 non-affected patients) were evaluated. Preoperative magnetic resonance imaging was used to define relevant tumour features, including two potentially predictive measures. Postoperative magnetic resonance and diffusion tensor imaging were used to characterize operative injury and tract-based differences in anisotropy of water diffusion. In patients who developed posterior fossa syndrome, initial tumour resided higher in the 4th ventricle (P = 0.035). Postoperative magnetic resonance signal abnormalities within the superior cerebellar peduncles and midbrain were observed more often in patients with posterior fossa syndrome (P = 0.030 and 0.003, respectively). The fractional anisotropy of water was lower in the bilateral superior cerebellar peduncles, in the bilateral fornices, white matter region proximate to the right angular gyrus (Tailerach coordinates 35, –71, 19) and white matter region proximate to the left superior frontal gyrus (Tailerach coordinates –24, 57, 20). Our findings suggest that multiple bilateral injuries to the proximal dentatothalamocortical pathways may predispose the development of posterior fossa syndrome, that functional disruption of the white matter bundles containing efferent axons within the superior cerebellar peduncles is a critical underlying pathophysiological component of posterior fossa syndrome, and that decreased fractional anisotropy in the fornices and cerebral cortex may be related to the abnormal neurobehavioural symptoms of posterior fossa syndrome.
PMCID: PMC2781745  PMID: 19805491
posterior fossa; cerebellum; mutism; medulloblastoma
7.  microRNA input into a neural ultradian oscillator controls emergence and timing of alternative cell states 
Nature Communications  2014;5:3399.
Progenitor maintenance, timed differentiation and the potential to enter quiescence are three fundamental processes that underlie the development of any organ system. In the nervous system, progenitor cells show short-period oscillations in the expression of the transcriptional repressor Hes1, while neurons and quiescent progenitors show stable low and high levels of Hes1, respectively. Here we use experimental data to develop a mathematical model of the double-negative interaction between Hes1 and a microRNA, miR-9, with the aim of understanding how cells transition from one state to another. We show that the input of miR-9 into the Hes1 oscillator tunes its oscillatory dynamics, and endows the system with bistability and the ability to measure time to differentiation. Our results suggest that a relatively simple and widespread network of cross-repressive interactions provides a unifying framework for progenitor maintenance, the timing of differentiation and the emergence of alternative cell states.
Hes1 is an important regulator of progenitor maintenance and timed differentiation, which shows oscillatory expression. Here, the authors combine experimental data and mathematical modelling to show that the interaction between miRNA-9 and Hes1 can predict progenitor transition from one cell state to another, as well as the timing of this transition.
PMCID: PMC3959193  PMID: 24595054

Results 1-7 (7)