RELATED STORY: Rita Allen Foundation Scholars Advance Understanding of Nervous Systems in Health and Disease
Rebecca Seal (Award in Pain Recipient) earned her B.S. in chemistry and psychology from the University of Oregon and her Ph.D. in neuroscience from Oregon Health and Science University. Her graduate studies with Susan Amara focused on the structure and function of plasma membrane glutamate transporters. As a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Francisco, she studied the vesicular glutamate transporter 3 in hearing and pain with Robert Edwards. She has received a NARSAD Young Investigator Grant from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, an Innovation Award from the American Diabetes Association, a Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science Fellowship and a Whitehall Foundation Research Award.
Seal’s laboratory focuses on defining the neural circuitry underlying a wide range of nervous system functions in health and disease, including persistent pain, motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and audition. A major impediment to identifying new pain treatments is incomplete understanding of the neural networks and mechanisms that underlie the pain. Her team’s work, using multiple approaches ranging from cellular and molecular to physiological and behavioral, centers on elucidating the neural circuits and mechanisms that underlie a particular form of persistent pain in which touch becomes painful in the setting of injury, termed mechanical allodynia. The spinal cord dorsal horn is a major site for the integration of somatosensory information and is vital for the induction and maintenance of this form of pain. Their work thus far suggests that the pain is encoded by distinct microcircuits in the dorsal horn, depending on the nature of the injury. This concept not only has important implications for understanding at a basic level how the nervous system encodes mechanical allodynia, but also highlights the need to consider etiology in the design and implementation of therapeutic strategies.