Kathryn M. Albers, PhD Professor, Medicine (GI)
Neurotrophic growth factors are not only essential for the survival and differentiation of developing sensory neurons, but also play key roles in the homeostasis and injury-evoked plasticity of adult sensory afferents. How and why growth factor expression changes in adult systems in response to inflammatory disease and following nerve injury is a major interest of our laboratory. Growth factor level can significantly impact sensory neuron gene expression and functional properties, e.g., signaling pathways downstream of NGF, GDNF and artemin are known to regulate the expression of ion channels, whose increased activity alters afferent excitability and pain sensitivity. Growth factors can be significantly altered in inflamed tissue, and these changes are predicted to contribute to afferent sensitivity and facilitate persistent neurogenic inflammation, which would exacerbate the severity and progression of inflammatory disease states.
We are also very interested in is the transcriptional regulation of genes that are activated in response to nerve injury, with a particular interest in the transcription factor Sox11. Sox11 becomes significantly increased in damaged peripheral neurons. Using expression, gene reporter and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays we found that Sox11 transcriptionally regulates genes associated with regeneration (e.g., BDNF, Sprr1a) and receptor mediated signaling (TANK). Current projects are focused on identifying mechanisms that regulate Sox11 activation and the impact of Sox11 on cellular signaling pathways related to pain and regeneration following nerve injury.