Department of Anesthesiology & Perioperative Care: School of Medicine: University of California, Irvine

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Catherine Cahill, MD photo

Catherine Cahill, PhD

Associate Professor

Catherine Cahill, PhD research program aims to investigate mechanisms underlying the genesis and chronicity of neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is caused by damage or dysfunction to the nervous system, for example, spinal cord injuries, radiculopathies, metabolic disorders, chemotherapy-induced viral infections, and peripheral neuropathies. Ample evidence indicates that neuropathic pain impairs patients’ mood, quality of life, activities of daily living, and performance at work. Many patients experience inadequate pain control when using available treatment interventions; commonly used opioid analgesics are associated with adverse side effects, including sedation, tolerance, physical dependence, and hyperalgesia. The Cahill laboratory performs translational research to investigate the neural basis of neuropathic pain with the ultimate goal of developing novel and more effective treatments. Dr. Cahill also participates in clinical research where she recently published a pilot trial on investigating the contribution and impact of myofascial pain treatment in arthritic patients.

Dr. Cahill’s laboratory performs translational studies utilizing a multi-disciplinary approach that combines techniques ranging from behavioral assessment to biochemical and neuroanatomical (light and electron) studies. The Cahill laboratory collaborates extensively with other researchers within the University of California and other excellent academic centers throughout North America.

There are three main research programs that Dr. Cahill’s laboratory is focusing on. First is to investigate neuronal-glial interactions and factors released from glia that contribute to synaptic plasticity. Dr. Cahill is specifically interested on how ultralow dose opioid and alpha adrenergic receptor antagonists inhibit the development of opioid analgesic tolerance and hyperalgesia and the influence of neuronal-glial interactions in these phenomena.

The second research program is to determine the changes in delta opioid receptor function in chronic pain states. Dr. Cahill’s laboratory was the first to demonstrate that chronic pain and prolonged morphine treatment promotes maturation and trafficking of delta opioid receptors such that more receptor is functionally available for drug stimulation. She is pursuing this line of research and investigating what contribution this receptor target may have in modulating the tonic aversive component of chronic pain.

Another research program focuses on to determine the perturbations in reward circuitry mitigated by neuropathic pain. Dr. Cahill is investigation on how glial cell activation in the brain alters reward induced by various drugs of abuse including opioid analgesics.