Graduate Studies Faculty

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Mary M. Heinricher, Ph.D.

Professor and Vice-Chair for Research, Neurological Surgery
Professor, Behavioral Neuroscience
Admin Unit: SOM-Neurological Surgery Department
Phone: 503-494-1135
Lab Phone: 503-494-1171
Fax: 503-494-2664
Office: RJH3373
Mail Code: L472
Behavioral Neuroscience
Neuroscience Graduate Program
Research Interests:
Pain, Pain modulation, Descending control, Analgesia, Hyperalgesia, Circuitry, Brainstem, Autonomic control, Inflammation, Cytokines, Inflammatory mediators , Neuromodulation, Systems » PubMed Listing
Preceptor Rotations
Academic Term Available Winter 2017 Yes Spring 2017 Yes
Faculty Mentorship
Dr. Heinricher might be available as a mentor for 2016-2017. Dr. Heinricher might be available as a mentor for 2017-2018.

Summary of Current Research

The interest of this laboratory is on brainstem mechanisms involved in pain modulation. Our focus is on opioid-sensitive circuits within the rostral ventral medulla, which is a crucial element in a pain-modulating network with links in the midbrain, medulla and spinal cord. This network contributes to the variability in pain sensitivity seen in different situations (for example under conditions of fear or extreme stress), and it is an important substrate for opioids and other analgesic drugs such as cannabinoids. We use single cell recording in combination with pharmacological tools to analyze how this system is activated, and we have identified two distinct classes of pain modulating neurons. ON cells are directly sensitive to opioids, and we recently showed that these neurons facilitate nociceptive transmission. OFF-cells exert a net inhibitory effect on nociception, and we were able to demonstrate that disinhibition of these neurons is central to the antinociceptive actions of opioids within the medulla. Currently, we are interested in identifying neurotransmitters that activate these two cell classes differentially to promote or suppress pain. We are also interested in how this modulatory system is activated under physiological conditions, how other sensory systems modulate pain through engaging this system, and also are looking at the inputs from limbic forebrain structures such as the hypothalamus to the rostral ventral medulla in an attempt to investigate this issue.

Previous Positions

  • Professor, Behavioral Neuroscience, OHSU, Portland, Ore (2006-present)

  • Vice-chairman research, Neurological Surgery, OHSU, Portland, Ore (2005 -present)

  • Professor, Depts. of Neurological Surgery, and Physiology and Pharmacology, OHSU, Portland, Ore (2001 -present)

  • Associate Professor, Depts. of Neurological Surgery, and Physiology and Pharmacology, OHSU, Portland, Ore (1995-2001)

  • Adjunct Assistant Professor of Neurophysiology, Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, Calif (1987-1995)

  • Research Associate, Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, Calif (1986-87)

  • Instructor, Department of Psychology, Division of Continuing Education, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL (1982-83)


  • Postdoctoral Fellow Neuroscience, Univ. California San Francisco, Calif (1983-86)

  • Ph.D., Neuroscience, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL (1983)

  • B.A., Psychology, University of Missouri, St. Louis, Miss (1977)

Non-Academic Interests

Native plants, ethnobotany

Recent Publications

Heinricher, M.M., Maire, J.J., Lee, D., Nalwalk, J.W. and Hough, L.B.  Physiological basis for inhibition of morphine and improgan antinociception by CC12, a P450 epoxygenase inhibitor.  J. Neurophysiology, 2010, 104, 3222-3230.

Maizels, M., Aurora, S., and Heinricher, M.M.  Beyond neurovascular:  migraine as a dysfunctional neurolimbic pain network.  Headache, 2012, 52,1553-1565.

Phillips, R.S., Cleary, D.R., Nalwalk, J.W., Arttamangkul, S., Hough, L.B., and Heinricher, M.M.  Pain facilitating medullary neurons contribute to opioid-induced respiratory depression.  J. Neurophysiol., 2012, 108, 2393-2404.

Cleary, D.R. and Heinricher, M.M.  Adaptations in responsiveness of brainstem pain-modulating neurons in acute compared to chronic inflammation.  Pain, 2013, 154, 845-855.

Wagner, K., Roeder, Z., Desrochers, K., Buhler, A.V., Heinricher, M.M., and Cleary, D.R.  The dorsomedial hypothalamus mediates stress-induced hyperalgesia and is the source of the pronociceptive neuropeptide cholecystokinin in the rostral ventromedial medulla.  Neuroscience, 2013, 238, 29-38.

Cleary D.R., Roeder, Z., Elkhatib, R., and Heinricher, M.M.  Neuropeptide Y in the rostral ventromedial medulla reverses inflammatory and nerve injury hyperalgesia in rats via non-selective excitation of local neurons.  Neuroscience, 2014, 271, 149-159.

Martenson, M.E., Halawa, O.I., Tonsfeldt, K.J., Maxwell, C.A., Hammack, N., Mist, S.D., Pennesi, M.E., Bennett, R.M., Mauer, K.M., Jones, K.D., and Heinricher, M.M.  A possible neural mechanism for photosensitivity in chronic pain.  Pain, 2016, 157, 868-878.

Roeder, Z., Chen, Q., Davis, S., Carlson, J.D., Tupone, D., and Heinricher, M.M.  The parabrachial complex links pain transmission to descending pain modulation.  Pain, in press.

Smith, M., Hostetler, C., Heinricher, M. and Ryabinin, A.  Social transfer of pain in mice.  Science Advances, 2016, 2, e1600855.