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Student research project

Supervisors: Professor Vaughan Macefield and Dr Tye Dawood

Project summary

This project will examine the effects of long-lasting muscle pain on muscle sympathetic nerve activity, blood pressure and inflammatory markers.

Chronic pain — now defined as ongoing pain lasting more than 3 months — is frequently established from activation of nociceptors located in deep tissues such as muscle, but can be sustained in the absence of persistent peripheral noxious input by plastic changes within the brain. The incapacitating effects of long-lasting pain are not just psychological — reflexes driven by nociceptors during the establishment of chronic pain may cause serious physiological consequences that affect many systems, including the cardiovascular system.

Using a model of experimental muscle pain — intramuscular infusion of hypertonic saline — we have shown that long-lasting muscle pain causes a sustained increase in muscle vasoconstrictor drive, blood pressure and heart rate in some subjects but sustained decreases in others. This may explain why some people develop high blood pressure following surgery, but why this is occurs we do not know. The purpose of this project is to understand the processes by which noxious stimulation causes an increase in muscle vasoconstrictor drive and blood pressure in some people, but not in others. By recording muscle sympathetic nerve acitivty (MSNA) at the same time as perfomring functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brain we have recently identified differences in specific regions of the brain in a group showing an increase in MSNA and blood pressure and a group showing a decrease. The current project will determine whether the differential sympathetic responses to muscle pain also lead to differences in inflammatory markers.

The project will combine microelectrode recordings of MSNA in awake human subjects with intravenous blood sampling at rest and during one hour of experimental muscle pain. This approach will allow us to determine whether sympathetic activation leads to increases in release of inflammatory products, which in turn may contribute to long-term changes in the brain.

This project is suitable for an Honours student.

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