Allan Basbaum

Professor and Chair, Department of Anatomy, University of California San Francisco

Allan Basbaum, Ph.D., conducts research that follows upon his extensive earlier studies of the CNS circuits through which opioids exert their analgesic effects. His laboratory now examines the mechanisms through which tissue and nerve injury produce changes in the peripheral and central nervous system that result in persistent pain. In parallel studies his laboratory examines the circuits through which pruritogens generate itch. The hallmark of the work is a multidisciplinary approach to the problem, using molecular, neuroanatomical, pharmacological and behavioral analyses in wild type and genetically-modified mice, including knockouts and Cre- or reporter-expressing mice generated in our laboratory. By combining these studies with an analysis of the functional properties of molecularly-defined neurons, these studies examine the extent to which pain and itch circuits segregate or converge at the level of spinal cord interneurons and projection neurons. In recent studies, the laboratory turned its attention to the possibility of overcoming the neurological consequences of peripheral nerve damage, by transplanting embryonic cortical GABAergic precursor cells into the spinal cord. Their studies have demonstrated that the cells integrate synaptically and functionally into host neural circuits and can ameliorate the persistent pain and itch associated with nerve damage. Very recently, the laboratory significantly expanded the scope of their studies. They are now using calcium imaging of cortical neurons in awake mice to examine the brain circuits and mechanisms through which pain and itch percepts are generated.

Dr. Basbaum has served as Editor-in-Chief of PAIN, the journal of the IASP. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine and is a fellow of the Royal Society in the United Kingdom.