Woolf is the senior writer of a newly published research using optogenetics-a technique that uses hereditary engineering to render neurons in living cells sensitive to laser light. Using this process in mice, Woolf, and colleagues successfully identified the precise cascade of pain-related behavioral replies evoked by stimulating neurons that specifically sense pain-inducing stimuli.
The findings, published July 5 in Cell Reports, show some big surprises and cast a fresh light on the classic dogma of pain reflex responses first described a century ago by the neurophysiologist and Nobel laureate Sir Charles Sherrington. Woolf sat down with Harvard Medicine News to go over his latest research and his journey to unravel the mysteries of pain. HMN: Among the central themes in your quest is pain.
Woolf: When I was on the medical wards as a medical college student, there were many patients complaining of terrible postoperative pain. Why do we feel pain? Because it warns us of the danger in our environment. Without that warning, we are at high risk of damaging ourselves. Individuals delivered with congenital insensitivity to pain, for example, suffer repeated damage.
They’re not aware of the difference between food and their tongues, so they chew their tongues. They burn off themselves because they cannot differentiate between something warm or scalding hot. HMN: So pain is good, except when it is not? Woolf: Pain as a physiological response is absolutely good. It’s an integral adaptive mechanism that has a protective function against danger and is a warning transmission … Read the rest