This cartoon I call Pain Wars. It represents the balance between inhibition and excitation that goes on in the central nervous system to modulate pain. I show neurons with their axon terminals shooting out neurotransmitters. Excitatory neurons are red and inhibitory are blue.
This is a collage of my old reprints from manuscripts I wrote when I was a graduate student at UT Galveston. I then used markers to draw a neuron over the top. My papers examine arthritis pain. The papers included here examined neurotransmitter release and activity of nociceptors.
Up until about 10 years ago many journals sent complimentary reprints on nice glossy paper to the author so we could distribute. This is a thing of the past in the new paperless age of research. Now manuscripts are generally readily accessible.
So for all you older scientists don’t throw away your old reprints, send them my way instead.
An acrylic painting representing a condition called brain fog common in chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia. Also sometimes referred to as fibrofog, people with chronic pain often talk about having difficulty concentrating or difficulty with memory. Brain fog is not unique to pain and is also common in those taking chemotherapy for cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, lack of sleep, and some medications. What causes brain fog is unknown but it is likely associated with alterations in neurons in the central nervous system.
This is a new cartoon I made to depict the activation of our endogenous pain inhibition pathways and how they can reduce pain. The “fire” is composed of neurons that are hyperactive and would transmit pain. The green “hoses” are actually axons that transmit inhibitory signals. The inhibition is produced by neurons, “blue cells” that are squelching the fire below.
Our body has a number of inhibition neurotransmitters that are used to reduce pain. These include opioids, serotonin, and GABA, all of which have been shown to inhibit pain. These neurotransmitters are also released by regular exercise and TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) and provide the mechanism for how exercise works to reduce pain.
I just put together a collage of my earlier muscle fiber painting (Cells of Strength, 2015). I love the geometric design. Red are muscle cells and green are nerves.
An acrylic painting showing axons and how they connect to relay signals from one neuron to another. This is called neurotransmission. Along axons on left side of picture signals are transferred electrically. On right I show synapses which relay signals chemically between neurons. The round vesicles have chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that are released from the end of an axon. These chemicals travel across a dynamic cleft to bind to receptors on an opposing heron, called dendrite. The signal is processed to eventually turn into another electrical signal before communicating with another neuron through a synapse. Mitochondria, oval shaped, provide energy for the process. Actin (depicted as squiggly lines in dendrites) provides support and structure and microtubules (straight lines in axons on left) are used to transport chemicals to the synapse.
This is a new cartoon I made to depict central sensitization, a process that underlies some chronic pain conditions. Central Sensitization is a balance between excitatory and inhibitory activity in the nervous system. I drew neurons on a scale with more excitatory neurons (red) and less inhibitory neurons (blue) to depict a shift in this balance to favor more excitation which leads to pain. This is a normal response of the nervous system to injury, but can persist long after injury. It is common in people with chronic pain and can be driven from continued input from the pain neurons at the initial site of injury, can be enhanced by stress and anxiety, and can in some cases be independent of the input from the site of injury.
EPSP & IPSP
Acrylic painting showing excitatory (red) and inhibitory (blue) synapses in the nervous system. Synapses receive input from both excitatory and inhibitory neurons and add them up to determine whether they will send a signal to the next neuron. If there are more excitatory inputs the neuron fires an electrical signal to send the message. If there are more inhibitory inputs it does not send the signal. Chemicals, called neurotransmitters, are contained in vesicles at the synapse (shown as round colored circles)-presynaptic terminal. These chemicals diffuse across to the other neuron to bind receptors that subsequently convert the chemical signal to an electrical current. The electrical signals travel along axons (round circles in black).
My latest creation. Six trading cards, each 3×5″ that depict the science of pain. These were all done with colored pencil. Notice the heavy use of red and orange-to depict pain and also my favorite colors. Opioid Epidemic shows the mu-opioid receptor, a seven transmembrane G-coupled receptor that promotes the actions of opioid molecules like morphine, hydroxycodone, and heroine. I also show the chemical structure for morphine. Pain Neuron Circuits shows interconnections between neurons in the central nervous system which are responsible for transmitting painful information to the cortex for perception of pain. Neuron just shows the axon and dendrites of a neuron in the central nervous system that would transmit painful stimuli. Axons shows a group of axons that would be found in a peripheral nerve and transmit signals from painful stimuli from the site of injury or simulation to the central nervous system. Pain Synapse shows the transmission f nociceptive stimuli through synapses in the central nervous system. The axon terminal, in red, has vesicles that contain excitatory chemical (neurotransmitters) that diffuse across a synapse to the other side to send their signals. These chemical signals are turned into electrical signals and transmitted as action potentials to the next synapse. Pain Action Potential shows how an electrical current that sends the signals. Ion channels that use sodium (Na+) are responsible for the initial upward phase of the action potential, and potassium and chloride are responsible for the downward phase of the action potential. I am submitting these to Art Science Gallery in Austin, TX for a open call for science trading cards – https://www.artsciencegallery.com. If you live in Austin go see the show of the sciart trading cards: Exhibition Dates December 2 – 24, 2017. Maybe I will get lucky enough to have them displayed.