The research activity of the Pain Unit is focused on studying the neurobiology and pharmacology of pain in preclinical models, with the major aims of:


• understanding how pain signaling is regulated at the level of the spinal cord and the brain in order to elucidate the changes that contribute to create a state of chronic pain

• identifying novel pain mediators/mechanisms participating in pain processing in order to offer new targets for treatment

• improving and refining experimental models of pain in normal and ageing conditions in order to investigate age-differences in pain perception/processing and drug-responses

• studying the analgesic effects of natural products in order to identify new potential drugs


One of our major interests is investigating the molecular mechanisms responsible for of neuronal dysfunction in several brain diseases and, possibly, in pain processing. Among these mechanisms, autophagy has recently caught much attention as an essential cellular homeostatic process of degradation that plays a significant role in human conditions such as cancer, neurodegenerative and infectious diseases. Recent work from our group has shown that spinal impairment of the autophagic process occurs in an experimental model of neuropathic pain (Mol Pain 2011; Curr Opin Pharmacol 2012) and studies are in progress to elucidate the role played also by this degradative pathway in pain states.


Attention is increasing about the use of natural products in therapy. Numerous natural substances and essential oils show anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. One of our major interests is to elucidate the mechanisms of action and the analgesic properties of compounds derived from local plant species, such as bergamot essential oil (BEO) and its major components, whose effects are investigated in 'in vitro systems' and in preclinical models of pain (Fitoterapia. 2010; Int Rev Neurobiol 2009).


We use experimental models of acute and chronic pain, behavioural tests, molecular and cellular biology techniques, immunohistochemistry, confocal microscopy and imaging analysis.