Photo of Mary M. Heinricher, Ph.D.

Mary M. Heinricher Ph.D.

  • (503) 494-1135
    • Professor of Neurological Surgery School of Medicine
    • Associate Dean, Basic Research Office of the Dean School of Medicine
    • Vice Chair, Research Neurological Surgery School of Medicine

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, and 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.

In addition to the degrees listed below, Dr. Heinricher was a postdoctoral fellow in neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco, from 1983-86.

Dr. Heinricher holds joint faculty appointments in the Departments of Behavioral Neuroscience and Physiology and Pharmacology. Previous positions include 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, Ill. (1982-83).

Her non-academic interests include native plants and ethnobotany. 

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  • B.A., University of Missouri, St. Louis Missouri 1977
  • Ph.D., Northwestern University, Evanston Illinois 1983


  • "Increased sleep disturbances and pain in veterans with comorbid traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder." Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine  In: , Vol. 14, No. 11, 15.11.2018, p. 1865-1878.
  • "Unmasking the Pain in Latent Sensitization." Neuroscience  In: , Vol. 381, 15.06.2018, p. 159-160.
  • "Anterior cingulate cortex contributes to alcohol withdrawal- induced and socially transferred hyperalgesia." eNeuro  In: , Vol. 4, No. 4, e0087, 24.07.2017.
  • "Optogenetic evidence for a direct circuit linking nociceptive transmission through the parabrachial complex with pain-modulating neurons of the rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM)." eNeuro  In: , Vol. 4, No. 3, e0202-17.2017, 2017.
  • "Social transfer of pain in mice." Science advances  In: , Vol. 2, No. 10, e1600855, 01.10.2016.
  • "Parabrachial complex links pain transmission to descending pain modulation." Pain  In: , Vol. 157, No. 12, 10.08.2016, p. 2697-2708.
  • "Pain modulation and the transition from acute to chronic pain."   Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology. Vol. 904 Springer New York LLC, 2016. p. 105-115 (Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology; Vol. 904).
  • "Distinct pathways for norepinephrine- and opioid-triggered antinociception from the amygdala." European Journal of Pain (United Kingdom)  In: , Vol. 20, No. 2, 01.02.2016, p. 206-214.
  • "Central mechanisms of pain suppression : Central mechanisms of pain modulation."   Neuroscience in the 21st Century: From Basic to Clinical, Second Edition. Springer New York, 2016. p. 3439-3464.
  • "Neuropeptide Y in the rostral ventromedial medulla reverses inflammatory and nerve injury hyperalgesia in rats via non-selective excitation of local neurons." Neuroscience  In: , Vol. 271, 20.06.2014, p. 149-159.
  • "Central mechanisms of pain suppression."   Neuroscience in the 21st Century: From Basic to Clinical. Springer New York, 2013. p. 2595-2619.
  • "Adaptations in responsiveness of brainstem pain-modulating neurons in acute compared with chronic inflammation." Pain  In: , Vol. 154, No. 6, 06.2013, p. 845-855.
  • "The dorsomedial hypothalamus mediates stress-induced hyperalgesia and is the source of the pronociceptive peptide cholecystokinin in the rostral ventromedial medulla." Neuroscience  In: , Vol. 238, 05.05.2013, p. 29-38.
  • "Deep brain stimulation entrains local neuronal firing in human globus pallidus internus." Journal of Neurophysiology  In: , Vol. 109, No. 4, 15.02.2013, p. 978-987.
  • "Pain-facilitating medullary neurons contribute to opioid-induced respiratory depression." Journal of Neurophysiology  In: , Vol. 108, No. 9, 01.11.2012, p. 2393-2404.
  • "Beyond neurovascular : Migraine as a dysfunctional neurolimbic pain network." Headache  In: , Vol. 52, No. 10, 11.2012, p. 1553-1565.
  • "A novel, non-invasive method of respiratory monitoring for use with stereotactic procedures." Journal of Neuroscience Methods  In: , Vol. 209, No. 2, 15.08.2012, p. 337-343.
  • "Physiological basis for inhibition of morphine and improgan antinociception by CC12, a P450 epoxygenase inhibitor." Journal of Neurophysiology  In: , Vol. 104, No. 6, 12.2010, p. 3222-3230.
  • "Neural basis for improgan antinociception." Neuroscience  In: , Vol. 169, No. 3, 09.2010, p. 1414-1420.
  • "Deep brain stimulation does not silence neurons in subthalamic nucleus in Parkinson's patients." Journal of Neurophysiology  In: , Vol. 103, No. 2, 02.2010, p. 962-967.
  • "The Brainstem and Nociceptive Modulation."   The Senses: A Comprehensive Reference. Vol. 5 Elsevier Inc., 2010. p. 593-626.
  • "Brainstem control of cerebral blood flow and application to acute vasospasm following experimental subarachnoid hemorrhage." Neuroscience  In: , Vol. 163, No. 2, 06.10.2009, p. 719-729.
  • "A possible neural basis for stress-induced hyperalgesia." Pain  In: , Vol. 142, No. 3, 04.2009, p. 236-244.
  • "Descending control of nociception : Specificity, recruitment and plasticity." Brain Research Reviews  In: , Vol. 60, No. 1, 04.2009, p. 214-225.
  • "Medullary pain facilitating neurons mediate allodynia in Headache-Related pain." Annals of Neurology  In: , Vol. 65, No. 2, 02.2009, p. 184-193.
  • "Purinergic receptor immunoreactivity in the rostral ventromedial medulla." Neuroscience  In: , Vol. 158, No. 2, 23.01.2009, p. 915-921.
  • "α2-Noradrenergic antagonist administration into the central nucleus of the amygdala blocks stress-induced hypoalgesia in awake behaving rats." Neuroscience  In: , Vol. 157, No. 1, 11.11.2008, p. 223-228.
  • "Are opioid-sensitive neurons in the rostral ventromedial medulla inhibitory interneurons?" Neuroscience  In: , Vol. 151, No. 2, 24.01.2008, p. 564-571.
  • "Pain."   Neuroscience in Medicine: Third Edition. Humana Press Inc., 2008. p. 513-525.
  • "Sensitization of pain-modulating neurons in the rostral ventromedial medulla after peripheral nerve injury." Journal of Neuroscience  In: , Vol. 27, No. 48, 28.11.2007, p. 13222-13231.

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