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Chronic pain is a debilitating condition that afflicts more than 100 million Americans. It is often poorly managed, representing a clinical challenge for the practicing physician.

Although the mechanisms underlying chronic pain remain to be established, evidence has accumulated for a role of intracellular calcium in the development of persistent pain. Calcium is essential for cellular functions and the induction of synaptic plasticity, which contributes to pain hypersensitivity. Intracellular calcium levels are regulated by calcium influx through calcium permeable channels on the cell membrane. Calcium-release activated calcium (CRAC) entry, also termed store-operated calcium entry (SOCE), is a major mechanism for calcium influx in non-excitable cells. In contrast to the well-known function of store-operated calcium (SOC) channels in non-excitable cells, the functional significance of SOCE in the central and peripheral nervous system remains elusive.

Drexel Hu Lab Image: Store-operated Calcium (SOC) Channels

Our laboratory has demonstrated that SOC channels are expressed in spinal cord dorsal horn neurons, and inhibition of SOC channels strongly attenuates inflammatory and neuropathic pain, suggesting a potential role of SOC channels in chronic pain associated with central sensitization.

Studies in the laboratory aim to understand the molecular and physiological mechanisms that contribute to the development of chronic pain and to identify novel drug targets for the treatment of chronic pain. Our current research focuses on identifying endogenous upstream molecules of SOC signaling and exploring functional consequences of SOC channel activation. The laboratory employs a variety of approaches, including behavioral tests, patch clamp electrophysiology, live cell imaging, and biochemical and molecular biology to examine the role of these channels in chronic pain conditions.

In the Media

"Unlocking the Secrets of Pain"
Persistent pain is more than a symptom — it's a Pandora's box of systemic issues and associated side effects impacting more than 100 million Americans, according to the Institute of Medicine. Yet, despite an aging population that makes this growing problem even more concerning, therapies and treatments for pain are quite limited.
College of Medicine Alumni Magazine (Fall/Winter 2016)

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Huijuan Hu, PhD - Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Physiology

Huijuan Hu, PhD
Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology & Physiology