Chronic pain is a rising health issue affecting as many as 30 percent of adults, worldwide, with an annual cost of more than $600 billion in the United States alone. Chronic pain after arthritis, nerve injury, cancer, and chemotherapy is typically associated with chronic neuroinflammation. Dr. Ru-Rong Ji, the chief of pain research at Duke Anesthesiology, is featured in a special “Pain Research” issue of the journal, Science, for his work that investigates the role non-neuronal cells play in pain regulation and inflammation.
Dr. Ji is the senior author of the review article, “Pain regulation by non-neuronal cells and inflammation,” published in the journal’s November 14, 2016 issue. Co-investigators include Alexander Chamessian (staff member of Dr. Ji’s Pain Signaling and Plasticity Laboratory) and Yu-Qiu Zhang.
According to the authors, accumulating evidence suggests that non-neuronal cells such as immune cells, glial cells, keratinocytes, cancer cells, and stem cells play active roles in the pathogenesis and resolution of pain. They studied how non-neuronal cells interact with nociceptive neurons by secreting neuroactive signaling molecules that modulate pain, revealing that “non-neuronal cells can communicate with nociceptive neurons by ‘listening’ and ‘talking’ to neurons.” The authors add that recent studies suggest that bacterial infections regulate pain through direct actions on sensory neurons, and specific receptors are present in nociceptors to detect danger signals from infections. Their study also discusses new, therapeutic strategies to control neuroinflammation for the prevention and treatment of chronic pain.
Dr. Ji is a distinguished professor of anesthesiology at Duke University’s School of Medicine and a faculty member of Duke Anesthesiology’s Center for Translational Pain Medicine where he and other researchers are devoted to understanding the epigenetic processes and signatures of what causes acute pain to become chronic, and reducing the burden of chronic pain by developing innovative, non-opioid pain therapies to improve patient care (highlighted in the cover story of Duke Anesthesiology’s 2016 edition of BluePrint magazine).