Dr. Stephen Bruehl’s research program is focused on factors that modulate pain responses and contribute to chronic pain. By combining placebo-controlled opioid agonist and antagonist administration, laboratory pain stimulation techniques, genetic assays, and psychosocial assessment in both health pain-free populations and chronic pain patients, the Bruehl lab studies determinants of chronic pain, endogenous opioid analgesic function, and responsiveness to analgesic medications. Work in the Bruehl lab has documented how altered endogenous opioid function impacts on chronic pain, including via opioidergic psychobiological associations with affect and affect regulation. Using these methods, the Bruehl lab has also identified key interactions between cardiovascular and pain regulatory systems that become dysfunctional in chronic pain, influencing chronic pain intensity and hypertension risk. Genetic studies in the Bruehl lab have helped document a role for opioid receptor polymorphisms in pain, and are exploring novel polymorphisms in GIRK channel genes that influence chronic pain risk, intensity, disability, and analgesic responses.
Dr. Bruehl’s work has also combined prospective clinical designs with laboratory methods to identify post-surgical pain predictors, characterize the role of central sensitization in chronic pain, and understand pathways leading to long-term chronic pain risk. Training of medical postdoctoral fellows will focus on understanding and manipulating neurotransmitter systems and other factors contributing to post-surgical acute pain, analgesic responses, and chronic pain risk. Training will capitalize on existing collaborative relationships with other mentors in the pain area, and will use a multidisciplinary approach to enhance perioperative care and postsurgical outcomes via human laboratory and clinical methodology, brain imaging, and complementary in vitro and translational animal pain studies.