Allan Basbaum, PhD

Professor & Chair
Department of Anatomy
+1 415 476-4311
Research Description: 

Following upon our extensive earlier studies of the CNS circuits through which opioids exert their analgesic effects, our laboratory now examines the mechanisms through which tissue and nerve injury produce changes in the peripheral and central nervous system that result in persistent pain. In parallel studies we examine the circuits through which pruritogens generate itch. The hallmark of our work is a multidisciplinary approach to the problem, using molecular, neuroanatomical, pharmacological and behavioral analyses in wild type and genetically-modified mice, including knockouts and Cre- or reporter-expressing mice generated in our laboratory. By combining these studies with an analysis of the functional properties of molecularly-defined neurons, these studies examine the extent to which pain and itch circuits segregate or converge at the level of spinal cord interneurons and projection neurons. Also of great interest are the mechanisms through which monocytes, including peripheral macrophages and spinal cord microglia, contribute to the persistent pain following nerve injury. With a view to overcoming the neurological consequences of peripheral nerve damage, we also studied the effects of transplanting embryonic cortical GABAergic precursor cells into the spinal cord. We have demonstrated that the cells integrate synaptically and functionally into host neural circuits and can ameliorate the persistent pain and itch associated with nerve damage, effectively treating what we consider to be the "disease" of neuropathic pain. And recently using long-term calcium imaging of spinal cord and cortical neurons in awake, behaving mice we are examining the brain and spinal cord circuits and mechanisms through which pain and itch percepts are generated as well as the mechanisms through which different general anesthetics exert their analgesic action. Below are several comprehensive reviews that we have published on the topics described above.

Primary Thematic Area: 
Secondary Thematic Area: 
Research Summary: 
The Neurological Basis of Pain and Its Control



History of Spinal Cord "Pain" Pathways Including the Pathways Not Taken.

Frontiers in pain research (Lausanne, Switzerland)

Basbaum A

Structural imaging studies of patients with chronic pain: an anatomic likelihood estimate meta-analysis.


Henn AT, Larsen B, Frahm L, Xu A, Adebimpe A, Scott JC, Linguiti S, Sharma V, Basbaum AI, Corder G, Dworkin RH, Edwards RR, Woolf CJ, Habel U, Eickhoff SB, Eickhoff CR, Wagels L, Satterthwaite TD

An ACVR1 activating mutation causes neuropathic pain and sensory neuron hyperexcitability in humans.


Yu X, Ton AN, Niu Z, Morales BM, Chen J, Braz J, Lai MH, Barruet E, Liu H, Cheung K, Ali S, Chan T, Bigay K, Ho J, Nikolli I, Hansberry S, Wentworth K, Kriegstein A, Basbaum A, Hsiao EC

Structure-Based Design of a Chemical Probe Set for the 5-HT5A Serotonin Receptor.

Journal of medicinal chemistry

Levit Kaplan A, Strachan RT, Braz JM, Craik V, Slocum S, Mangano T, Amabo V, O'Donnell H, Lak P, Basbaum AI, Roth BL, Shoichet BK

Structures of the σ2 receptor enable docking for bioactive ligand discovery.


Alon A, Lyu J, Braz JM, Tummino TA, Craik V, O'Meara MJ, Webb CM, Radchenko DS, Moroz YS, Huang XP, Liu Y, Roth BL, Irwin JJ, Basbaum AI, Shoichet BK, Kruse AC