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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Center for Translational Pain Research
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Center for Translational Pain Research Launch

Chicago - 11:00 AM - 12:30 PM

Please join us for the launch of the Center for Translational Pain Research at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine!

Jon-Kar Zubieta, MD, PhD
Professor of Psychiatry
Stony Brook University

A. Vania Apkarian, PhD
Director, Center for Translational Pain Research
Professor of Physiology, Anesthesiology, and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Rex Chisholm, PhD
Vice Dean for Scientific Affairs and Graduate Education
Adam and Richard T. Lind Professor of Medical Genetics
Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and Surgery
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Yu Lin, MD, PhD
Program Director, Cognitive Neuroscience, NeuroAIDS, Human Pain
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Division of Neuroscience and Behavior, Integrative Neuroscience Branch




Pain, Action and Interference - Johan W.S. Vlaeyen, PhD

Chicago - 12:30 PM - 1:30 PM

Johan W.S. Vlaeyen, PhD
Professor of Health Psychology, KU Leuven University, Belgium
Professor of Experimental Health Psychology, Maastricht University, Netherlands
Adjunct Research Professor, University of South Australia, Adelaide

Pain is a biologically relevant and vital signal of bodily threat, urging the individual to protect him/herself. Immediate protective responses to pain include increased arousal, orientation to the sources of threat, and various safety-seeking behaviors including escape and avoidance. Given its eminent survival value, pain is a strong motivator for learning. Responding to the repeated occurrence of the same painful event increases when harm risks are high (sensitization), and decreases in the absence of such risks (habituation). Discovering relations between pain and other events provides the possibility to predict (Pavlovian conditioning) and control (operant conditioning) harmful events. Avoidance is of particular relevance in explaining the development of chronic pain problems: It is adaptive in short term, but paradoxically may have detrimental long-term effects. Pain does not occur in a vacuum, and the urge to act competes with other demands in the person s environment.

In this presentation, I will discuss experimental work featuring the acquisition, generalization and extinction of pain-related fear using a proprioceptive fear-conditioning paradigm. I will also review of the effectiveness of novel exposure techniques, which share the aim to facilitate or restore the pursuit of individual valued life goals in the face of persistent pain.


Crombez G, Eccleston C, Van Damme S, Vlaeyen JW, Karoly P. Fear-avoidance model of chronic pain: the next generation. The Clinical journal of pain 2012;28(6):475-483.

Vlaeyen JW, Linton SJ. Fear-avoidance model of chronic musculoskeletal pain: 12 years on. Pain 2012;153(6):1144-1147.

Vlaeyen JW. Learning to predict and control harmful events: chronic pain and conditioning. Pain 2015;156 Suppl 1:S86-93.

Vlaeyen JW, Morley S, Crombez G. The experimental analysis of the interruptive, interfering, and identity-distorting effects of chronic pain. Behav Res Ther 2016;86:23-34.

Vlaeyen JW, Morley S, Linton S, Boersma K, De Jong J. Pain-Related Fear: Exposure-Based Treatment for Chronic Pain. Seattle: IASP Press, 2012.

Vlaeyen JW, Crombez G. Behavioral Conceptualization and Treatment of Chronic Pain. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology (in press).

Johan W.S. Vlaeyen, PhD studied psychology at the Free University of Brussels (Belgium) and did his clinical psychology internship at the University of Washington, Seattle (USA). He received his PhD at Maastricht University in 1991.

The main interest of Johan W.S. Vlaeyen is the understanding of cognitive and behavioral mechanisms of chronic disability due to somatic complaints and pain in particular, and the development and evaluation of customized cognitive-behavioral management strategies for individuals suffering chronic pain.

His experimental work has highlighted the role of the threat value of pain in the engagement of defensive responses such as increased physiological arousal, hypervigilance and escape/avoidance behaviors. He and his team currently are examining the role of fear learning, and the pathways to the development of pain-related fear including. These include fear learning through direct experience, contextual fear learning when pain is unpredictable, observational fear learning, and learning through verbal instructions.

Johan Vlaeyen and his team also have developed exposure-based treatments for fear-reduction and they have utilized randomized controlled trials as well as replicated single-case experimental designs to evaluate the effects of behavioral interventions for patients with chronic pain.

Johan Vlaeyen is on the editorial board of the journals Pain, European Journal of Pain, Clinical Journal of Pain, and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

He co-edited the book Understanding and Treating Fear of Pain , received the Pain award of the Dutch Chapter of IASP, and obtained an honorary doctorate at the University of rebro, Sweden for his scientific contributions in the area of pain psychology.




From pain to defensive actions: saliency detection as a reactive process - Giandomenico Iannetti, MD, PhD

Chicago - 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

Giandomenico Iannetti, MD, PhD
Professor of Neuroscience
Neuroscience and Behaviour Laboratory
Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), Rome
Department of Neuroscience, Physiology & Pharmacology
University College London

The nervous system relates us to the rest of the world through perception and action: environmental information is continuously used to make decisions resulting in actions appropriate to achieve the ultimate objectives of life, survival and reproduction. For this reason, nervous systems are particularly sensitive towards the detection of sudden environmental events that need to be rapidly acted upon and imperil survival - a typical example being transient nociceptive stimuli causing pain. These stimuli elicit extremely large brain responses, which have been traditionally used to build models of where and how painful percepts are generated in the human brain, and, more recently, to infer whether an individual is in pain.

I will provide evidence that this dominant view is incorrect. Instead, I will suggest that the largest part of these brain responses reflect a basic mechanism through which the human brain detects and purposefully reacts to behaviourally-relevant sensory events, regardless of their perceptual quality. I will describe a basic physiological mechanisms that couples these saliency-related cortical responses with an activation of the motor system, indicating that saliency detection is not merely perceptive but reactive, preparing the animal for subsequent appropriate actions.

I will finally show how stimuli occurring near the body elicit stronger behavioural and physiological responses. This phenomenon, which makes evolutionary sense (a predator within striking distance is more salient than one farther away), led to the concept of peripersonal space (PPS). The common and intuitive description of PPS as a single, distance-based, in-or-out zone, is however contradicted by empirical data. I propose a reconceptualization that incorporates PPS into mainstream theories of action selection and behaviour.

Giandomenico Iannetti, MD, PhD, directs the Neuroscience and Behaviour Laboratory of the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT), and is Professor of Neuroscience at University College London (UCL). He leads a multidisciplinary research group ( working on sensorimotor neuroscience in humans and rodents. After a PhD from the University of Rome La Sapienza (2003) and a post-doc/lectureship at the University of Oxford (2003-2009), in 2009 he moved to University College London (UCL), where in 2014 was appointed Full Professor of Neuroscience. In 2018 he joined the Italian Institute of Technology. His research has been funded by programme grants of the Royal Society, Wellcome Trust, European Research Council and Medical Research Council.




Dissecting the Neural Circuits Driving Pain-Induced Negative Affect - Jose Moron-Concepcion, PhD

Chicago - 10:30 AM - 11:30 AM

Jose Moron-Concepcion, PhD
Professor of Anesthesiology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience
Washington University Pain Center
Washington University School of Medicine

Quality of life for patients suffering from chronic pain is impacted by co-morbidities such as prolonged negative affective states. These include decreased reward valance and diminished motivation to perform goal-directed behaviors. Current pharmacological treatments focus mainly on the nociceptive component of pain, leaving severe emotional disturbances understudied and poorly treated. Twenty five percent of patients experiencing pain misuse drugs of abuse, a maladaptive behavior that can lead to involuntary overdose and/or addiction. As the opioid epidemic in the US continues to worsen, it is critical that we determine the factors and neural circuits contributing to this severe public health issue. The negative consequences of persistent pain are likely mediated by dynamic adaptations in the central nervous system; however, the mechanisms responsible for the development of pain-induced negative affective states are not well understood. Prior work has revealed that the dynorphin-kappa opioid receptor (KOR) system, in discrete brain regions, decreases the reinforcing properties of rewards and induces dysphoria and aversive behaviors. Data presented here demonstrates that the dynorphin-KOR system in the mesolimbic pathway represents an important target for therapeutical approaches in the treatment of pain-induced negative affect.

Jose Moron-Concepcion, PhD, is a full Professor of Anesthesiology, Neuroscience and Psychiatry. His primary appointment is in the Washington University Pain Center in the basic research section. After completing his PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Barcelona (Spain), he was awarded a fellowship to join the intramural program at NIDA to work in the laboratory of Dr. Toni Shippenberg, a pioneer in the field of opioid pharmacology. Then, Dr. Moron-Concepcion continued his postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Lakshmi Devi at Mount Sinai, where he continued his studies on the mechanisms of opioid dependence. After completing his training, Dr. Moron-Concepcion moved to Columbia University in New York, where he was on the faculty of the Department of Anesthesiology for 6 years. He finally joined the faculty of Washington University on October 1, 2015. Research in his laboratory is focused in understanding the mechanisms underlying opioid addiction and the intersection with pain. In addition, his lab is interested in elucidating mechanisms underlying pain in the central nervous system and in the periphery.


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