The candidate proposes a career development Pathway to Independence Award to further advance her psychophysical and brain imaging research skills in the area of sensory and affective neuroscience. The candidate's ultimate career goal is to become an independent, extramurally-funded scientist with expertise in affective somatosensation and its role in complementary health modalities. The neuroscience of affective somatosensation is very young and holds large gaps. While an affective-sensory afferent type for light stroking touch is known (the C low threshold mechanoreceptor; C-LTMR), we do not yet understand why deep pressure touch is pleasant, and we understand very little about the role of opioids in affective touch perception. Affective somatosensation is a critical component of numerous complementary and integrative therapies including massage therapy. The purpose of this proposal is to identify the sensory affective pathways of light stroking and deep pressure touch and determine how and why these pathways differ in individuals with chronic pain.
Each aim of the proposal is supported by coursework, research training experiences, scientific meetings and seminars, and a detailed research plan. The K99 period of the proposal aims to determine whether the pleasantness of deep pressure touch is dependent on pressure-sensitive C-LTMR afferents in muscle tissue and to determine what role opioids play in the pleasantness of light stroking and deep pressure touch in healthy individuals. The R00 period will determine why individuals with chronic pain show reduced affective sensory processing and altered opioid interactions. The overall goal of this K99/R00 research proposal is to provide the candidate with expertise in sensory affective neuroscience through the performance of psychophysical testing and brain imaging under the guidance of an experienced team of scientists. The candidate is currently a postdoctoral IRTA fellow in the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health where she is mentored by Dr. M. Catherine Bushnell, a leading expert in pain and affective somatosensation, with access to excellent facilities for conducting nerve blocks, sensory testing, and brain imaging. The findings from the K99/R00 investigations will advance the neuroscience of affective somatosensation by identifying the affective pathways of light stroking and deep pressure touch, enabling research on the functions of these pathways in health and disease as well as in various complementary health modalities including massage.
Light stroking and deep pressure touch are engaged by many complementary health practices including massage therapy, yet little is known about how specific touch components- such as light stroking and deep pressure- exert affective and analgesic benefits. The findings of these studies will advance the neuroscience of affective somatosensation by identifying the affective pathways of light stroking and deep pressure touch, enabling research on the role of these pathways in various complementary health modalities, as well as their function in health and disease. Findings from this line of research will ultimately provide an understanding of how light and deep touch components of massage therapy generate positive affect and lead to reductions in pain.