Clifford J. Woolf, MD, PhD
Harvard Medical School
Our group is devoted to investigating the way in which the functional, chemical and structural plasticity of neurons contributes to adaptive and maladaptive changes in the mammalian nervous system. Our major efforts are devoted to the study of pain, the formation of neural circuits during development, regeneration of the adult nervous system and neurodegenerative conditions. Most of our work is concentrated on primary sensory, motor and spinal cord neurons, using a multidisciplinary approach spanning human, mouse and Drosophila genetics, molecular and cell biology, synaptic electrophysiology, neuroanatomy, integrative systems biology and behavior. We have established several functional and comparative genomic strategies using gain and loss of function approaches to screen for genes involved in defined neural functions. The group works closely with a wide number of academic groups and the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry to identify and validate molecular targets for novel analgesics, neuroprotective agents, neuroimmune interactions and axonal growth determinants. Increasingly we are using stem cell technology to make human and mouse sensory and motor neurons for both disease modeling and screening, working with the Rubin and Eggan groups. Current research includes study of post-translational processing and transcriptional control of the membrane receptors and ion channels that mediate pain hypersensitivity, intracellular signal transduction cascades activated in neurons by peripheral inflammation and nerve injury, the role of transcription factors as master regulators of neuronal differentiation, growth and survival programs, mechanisms responsible for cell survival in injured sensory and motor neurons, contribution of intrinsic growth determinants in establishing regenerative capacity in the nervous system and neuroimmune interactions.