Central Sensitization

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.




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).

Size: 18″x24″

Pain Trading Cards

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.


You got nerves

You got nerves

His painting is of a nerve with different sizes of nerve fibers. The largest ones are surrounded by myelin, shown here as black rings. The myelin serves as an insulator-the thicker the myelin the faster the nerve sends its signals. The largest nerve fibers, also called axons, send signals to our muscles to make them contract and move, and send signals from touch receptors so we can distinguish guise what we feel. The smallest, in red, orange and yellow, are thinly myelinated or unmyelinated and send pain signals to the spinal cord and brain. The unmyelinated axons congregate together I what is called a Remak bundle-named for the guy who discovered it of course. Your nerves send their signals by electricity from their receptors in your skin, muscle, joints and other tissues to your spinal cord and brain so we can distinguish multiple sensations. The nerves also carry information from the brain and spinal cord to coordinate movement. There are some diseases that affect your peripheral nerves. Diabetes can result in a loss of peripheral nerve fibers and people can lose sensation and have pain. On the other extreme there are children born without pain fibers and grow up with no pain. This is a very terrible condition and children do not learn to avoid injury, continue to use an injured arm or leg-so pain is actually a good thing. If you wand more information on this watch a documentary called Life without Pain.




The painting shows the skin and the nerves involved in pain and touch. The epidermis is in pink and is separated from the dermis in black by the basement membrane in white. The epidermis is constantly making new cells from its basal layer, the dark pink column-like cells on top of the white basement membrane. The cells slowly make there way towards the top layer. On their way there, they die and form a protective barrier from the outside world. Pain nerves are depicted in green lines coursing through the epidermis. Meissner’s corpuscles, depicted as green ovals in the dermis, are responsible for light touch. They are very sensitive and found in the highest concentrations in your fingers and lips. The Touch is one of the 5 senses. There are a number of different types of sensory receptors that are involved in different types of touch. Those involved in touch are encapsulated. In this painting the two touch fibers I show are in green and blue. Merkel’s cells, blue cells in epidermis, together with their nerve, Merkels’ discs,blue cells contacting the Merkel’s cells, are also responsible for touch sensation – mostly the ability to distinguish fine detailed surface patterns.

Pain Invaders

This paining depicts the fact that chronic pain is transmitted by overexcitable neurons. The devastating nature of chronic pain is mediated by hyperactive neurons in both the peripheral and central nervous system that can make normal activities painful and result in pain throughout the body. Years of research in both animals and human subjects shows that the body’s response to pain becomes abnormal. Not only are the neuron’s hyperexcitable, our body’s own pain relieving capability is reduced. In fact, I have spent the bulk of my career studying pain mechanisms in muscle and joint conditions like fibromyalgia and arthritis. Our research has discovered several potential targets and pathways that may one day lead to better treatment. We are currently expanding our research to examine how fatigue and pain interact. Fatigue is an equally devastating symptom that is extremely common in people with chronic pain and also reduces people’s ability to participate in normal activities. We believe that there are similar mechanisms underlying both pain and fatigue.

Chronic pain affects one third of the US population and costs over 600 billion dollars per year as cited by the Institute of Medicine Report on Pain.  Because of the significant problem, a National  Pain Strategy was released in 2016 by Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health. The strategy calls for improvement in education of all health professionals and the public, research targeting new and improved approaches to treatment, and better access to pain treatments for all Americans. These are big goals and will need significant resources to accomplish. While all of this is a problem in America, it does not stop here, it is a problem worldwide. Only with dedicated researchers and clinicians can we

Do you hear me?

Do you hear me?

The painting shows the stereocilia of hair cells (blue columns) from the inner ear, in fact, I show the stereocilia from outer hair cells. Hair cells are sensory receptors, neurons, that transmit sound waves into a signal that is transmitted to the brain for us to differentiate sound. As depicted, sterocilia are arranged in rows of graded lengths and are embedded in a tectorial membrane without microvilli (purple). Supporting cells have small microvilli (red). Movement of the sterocilia causes ion channels on the hair cell to open, and transmits the sound wave to an electrical signal.

oreille_gene_enCoupe schématique de l'organe de Corti

Above is a schematic drawing of the ear (left).  The outer ear (blue) is separated from the middle ear (orange) by the eardrum that is linked to the inner ear (pink) by 3 very small bones. The spiral cochlea is where the hair cells are located. Within the cochlea is the organ of Corti (above right) which houses the hair cells and the supporting cells this is the functional unit that transmits sound.

If you want more information on hearing I refer you to the following website http://www.cochlea.eu/en/cochlea/organ-of-corti.




This image was produced on my iPad. Just a series of dots with my very cool drawling pen from WACOM. I can now do colorful doodles. In case you were wondering I did this while listening to very cool talks at Spring Brain, a meeting held in Sedona Arizona.

Shadow Self Portrait

Shadow Self Portrait

24″ x 36″

This shows a variety of immune cells that would be found in inflamed joints like rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that is characterized by joint inflammation and has associated pain and stiffness. It primarily affects the small joints of the hands and feet. While the cause is unknown, there are good treatments that minimize the swelling and accompanying pain. If untreated people get significant joint damage and deformities. Thanks to great science over the last 20 years, this is rarely observed. These immune cells are attracted to the joints and secrete cytokines, substances known to enhance the inflammatory process. Known as an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis is the result of an immune system attacking its own tissues.

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