School of Life Sciences
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Gareth Hathway

Associate Professor of Neuroscience, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences

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Biography

I have a PhD from The University of Cambridge and a BSc (Hons) form the University of Cardiff in Pharmacology.

Expertise Summary

My research expertise is in the science of pain and nociception. Specifically I study the changing way in which the brain and spinal cord detect and processes pain from birth until adulthood and the way in which changes in the immune system impact upon this.

Teaching Summary

I currently convene the Structure, Function and Pharmacology of Excitable Tissues Modules for 1st year Medical students. This module is provides new Medical Students with an easily accessible and fun… read more

Research Summary

My research group is sited within newly refurbished and equipped laboratories within the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nottingham. The broad focus of my research is to understand the… read more

Selected Publications

I currently convene the Structure, Function and Pharmacology of Excitable Tissues Modules for 1st year Medical students. This module is provides new Medical Students with an easily accessible and fun introduction to the way in which the nervous system consciously and unconsciously controls our bodies by using lectures, seminar, practical and workshop based learning. We are also lucky enough to receive a Clinical Session from a consultant Neurologist Dr Adrian Wills.

I also contribute significantly to the Neuroscience BSc and MSci Honours courses. I co-convene a second year module entitled Neuroscience Laboratory Studies which introduces students to practical aspects and skills routinely used in neuroscience research (eg neurophysiology and immunohistochemistry) as well as developing their scientific writing skills. Practical classes are supplemented by small group tutorial based sessions with small groups so that students are able to develop their scientific and communication skills in a supportive environment. Within the second year I also convene a module entitled Neuroscience in Society. This small group based module explores the impact that issues surrounding neuroscience has in society. We debate topics ranging from the use of neuroscience in the prosecution of criminal cases in the justice system to the use of neuroscience to inform clinical decisions regarding end of life care.

In the final year I convene a module entitled 'Neurobiology of Pain'. This module, close to my research interests, informs students at an advanced level of the biology and treatment of pain across the lifespan.

I contribute to teaching of practical classes and deliver selected teaching on other modules across degree courses. In addition to this I am a tutor on both the Neuroscience and Medical courses.

Current Research

My research group is sited within newly refurbished and equipped laboratories within the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nottingham. The broad focus of my research is to understand the underlying neurobiological processes that occur when an individual experiences pain.

We have in recent years investigated the contribution that supraspinal brainstem centres, the rostral ventral medial medulla (RVM) and the periaqueductal grey (PAG) play in the induction and maintenance of chronic pain and also how these centres influence the postnatal maturation of pain processing. These supraspinal sites are central to the action of opioid analgesics, and neurones within these regions are able to powerfully inhibit or facilitate the excitability of neurones within the dorsal horn of the spinal cord and therefore are able to decrease or increase the amount of pain an individual experiences. Alongside my collaborators, Professor Maria Fitzgerald (UCL) and Dr Suellen Walker (UCL/ICH) I have recently shown that the RVM undergoes profound changes in the postnatal period. Early in life animals and humans have exaggerated responses to pain, pain thresholds are lower, the behavioural responses to painful stimuli are exaggerated and uncoordinated. This increased excitability within the neural pathways that detect and process pain is due to a lack of mature inhibitory neurotransmission in the spinal cord, one source of these inhibitory signals in adults is from the RVM. Early in life the RVM appears to be unable provide inhibitory input to the spinal cord, instead it powerfully facilitates, or excites, pain processing at this level. Our observations have shown that the RVM fully matures at quite a late stage compared to other areas of the CNS and we are in the process of elucidating the mechanisms responsible for this. We have shown that the PAG-RVM axis is responsible for the life-long alterations in pain sensitivity that follow surgical pain in early life and have recently demonstrated immature processing of noxious inputs within the somatosensory cortex of juvenile rats, demonstrating immaturity in the integration of noxious inputs into forebrain centres involved in the detection of pain, a project that is being funded by the BBSRC Doctoral Training Programme.

Other projects currently underway within my laboratory are investigating the role of the peripheral and central nervous systems in the establishment and maintenance of chronic pain (both osteoarthritis and inflammatory pain). The ability of inflammation to re-program neural responses to pain is an important and under investigated phenomenon and the time-points over which abnormal noxious inputs lead to long-term changes in supraspinal pain centres need to be identified to better understand and in the future treat long-term pain. This work is carried out in collaboration with the Artritis Research UK National Pain Centre of which I am a member. I also collaborate with the FRAME Laboratory (led by Dr Andy Bennett) on projects investigating the role of nuclear receptors in modulating the infiltration of circulating immune cells to sites of inflammation, this novel work is identifying novel signalling pathways that could fundamentally alter our understanding of the link between pain and inflammation. We are also collaborating investigating the expression of key opioid and cannabinoid receptors in the developing human brain.

Another area of active interest that I am pursuing is trying to understand the interactions between the nervous and immune systems with regard to pain. Alongside colleagues I have demonstrated that the primary immunocompetant cells in the CNS, microglia, can be activated within the spinal cord following physiological stimulation of high-threshold sensory neurones that convey painful information from the periphery to the CNS (C-fibres) in the absence or damage to either the sensory neurones or to the CNS itself. Previously we have known that microglia play an important role in inflammatory and neuropathic pain states, however it wasn't clear if these cells could only be stimulated when neurones were damaged. Microglia and other immune cell types are potential targets for therapeutic intervention in patients suffering from chronic pain. I am pursuing research aimed at understanding how these cells are regulated in areas of the CNS responsible for processing pain and studying their interactions with neurones.

I use a combination of approaches in my studies including neurophysiological and neurochemical measurements, neuroanatomical studies including immunohistochemistry and neuronal tract tracing, and, in collaboration with colleagues, quantitative assessment of expression levels of neurotransmitters, receptors and other gene products in the CNS (qPCR).

Future Research

I am currently developing projects looking at:

The role of non-neuronal cells in the maturation of spinal and supraspinal pain processing over postnatal development

The role of miRNA in the maturation of the spinal dorsal horn and pain processing

The role of astrocytes in spinal nociception

School of Life Sciences

University of Nottingham
Medical School
Queen's Medical Centre
Nottingham NG7 2UH

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