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Interactive Pain Lecture Series

Interactive Pain Lecture Series – Educational series for NIH IRTA trainees

IPLS Spring Semester – Educational Series on Pain for NIH IRTA Trainees


  • You must register with your National Institutes of Health (NIH) email address. Register once for the series of spring 2024 sessions.
  • You may attend in person or online, as your schedule permits.  
  • See dates below. All sessions meet from 3 to 4 p.m. ET.

The goal of this educational lecture series is to provide an overview of pain as a pathophysiological phenomenon—from transduction and transcription, to transmission and modulation, to psychosocial experience and coping with pain that translates into behavior, and all the physiology and phenomenology in between that we recognize and study as pain. 

This lecture series will provide a foundation for participants in the Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) program to learn basic concepts and facts about pain in its full dynamic complexity and translatability across its multiple domains, from physiology to behavior and from research to clinic. The intended primary audience for this series is NIH postbacs, postdocs, and other students and fellows (graduate and medical students, summer students, etc.) in the IRTA program. However, all NIH intramural staff are invited to attend and participate in discussions, as many topics are likely to be of interest to intramural clinicians. 

The topics presented during this spring semester were also presented in part during the 2023 spring and fall semesters, and the current lecture series will complement what was presented last year. 

This spring lecture series consists of 10 1-hour sessions. Lectures will take place on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month from 3 to 4 p.m. ET. Each session will be a hybrid of in-person participation on the NIH campus and online remote participation. An outline of each upcoming session’s presentation will be made available to the registered audience 2 days prior to the session.

Each 60-minute session will consist of a 25- to 30-minute presentation delivered by one or two presenters, who will describe and review specific pain topics. A panel discussion and Q&A with the audience will follow the presentation for the remainder of the hour. Volunteer postbacs will introduce the topics, presenters, and discussants, as well as moderate the discussions. Those attending in person as well as those attending remotely are invited to participate in the discussion to reflect the truly interactive nature of this course. 

Contact Dr. Misha Backonja at for more information.

Spring 2024 Sessions and Speakers

All sessions take place 3–4 p.m. You may attend in-person or online. The location and link will be shared with registrants.


February 14, 2024

  • Concepts about pain and physiology of nociception

February 28, 2024

  • Pain perception and pain modulation and their clinical significance + case

March 13, 2024

  • Translating pain physiology to clinical pain manifestations

March 27, 2024

  • Measuring pain and its impact in humans and animals + case

April 10, 2024

  • Types of pain and their pathophysiology – acute and post-operative pain + case

April 24, 2024

  • Types of pain and their pathophysiology – neuropathic pain + case

May 8, 2024

  • Types of pain and their pathophysiology – musculoskeletal pain + case

May 22, 2024

  • Types of pain and their pathophysiology – cancer pain 

June 12, 2024

  • Psychological and behavioral treatment of pain

June 26, 2024

  • Treating pain with traditional and non-opioid analgesics

Fall 2023 Sessions

September 13, 2023

Review of topics from spring semester lecture series (to be presented by postbacs) 

  • Definitions of pain terms and concepts
    Diana King (CC/DPM)
  • Peripheral nociception and peripheral sensitization 
    Catherine Kwiat (NINR)
  • Spinal mechanisms and central sensitization
    Nathan Camarillo (CC/RMD)
    Rafael Hernandez Latorre (NIDCR)
  • Brain, pain perception and descending mechanisms
    Grace Ratley (NIAID)
  • Measurement of pain 
    Ally Niemiec (CC/RMD)
    Nathan Camarillo (CC/RMD)

September 27, 2023       

Neuropathic pain 
Barbara Karp, M.D. (NINDS)
Ellen Staedtler, M.D., Ph.D. (CC/SURG)

October 11, 2023 [Canceled]            

Cancer pain [Canceled]

October 25, 2023            

Inflammatory and visceral pain 
Barbara Karp, M.D. (NINDS) 

November 8, 2023          

Headache and trigeminal pain        
Michael Oshinsky, Ph.D. (NINDS)

December 13, 2023        

Musculoskeletal pain
Miroslav "Misha" Bačkonja, M.D. (NCCIH)

Spring 2023 Sessions

February 8, 2023

Why study pain? 
Definitions of pain; biological significance of pain; nociceptive, nociplastic, and neuropathic pain 

In the first part of this session participants in this session will present critical reasons why it is important to learn about pain, conduct research about pain, and present pain in a way that would be accessible to NIH IRTA participants. During the second half of this session, we will review definitions of pain and a few major categories of pain.

February 22, 2023

Overall anatomy and physiology of pain across organ systems—neural basis and contribution of other organ systems 

Pain is a complex biological phenomenon subserved primarily by the nervous system, from peripheral nerve receptors to cortical neurons and other peripheral nervous system and central nervous system structures, which interact along the way. This session will review the general organization of the nociceptive system that underlies the experience of pain as well as the contribution of other systems, such as the immune system. 

March 8, 2023

Peripheral mechanisms: transduction of injury and noxious stimulation, transmission, excitability and sensitization

Noxious stimulation and tissue injury set into motion a cascade of events from receptors that transduce the force of injury and translate it into action potentials in the peripheral sensory nerve fibers. As a result of injury, the peripheral immune system and other tissues respond, leading to a hyperexcitable state of peripheral nerve fibers known as peripheral sensitization. Manifestations of this sensitization are ongoing pain, allodynia, and hyperalgesia.

March 22, 2023

Central transmission, central sensitization, and dorsal horn circuits

As nociceptive peripheral afferents, peripheral nerve fibers connect to the spinal cord via the dorsal horn and from there via specialized fiber tracts project to the brainstem and thalamus. From there, nociceptive signals project to multiple areas of the brain, where multiple dimensions of pain are experienced. With sustained input from the periphery, central circuits themselves become sensitized leading to central sensitization, which also contributes to the experience of ongoing pain, allodynia, and hyperalgesia.

April 12, 2023

Central modulation and descending control 

In the previous sessions, we presented peripheral and central transmission, where information is transmitted from the site of injury that initiates nociception and pain, as well as physiological circumstances that enhance that transmission, leading to what is known as sensitization, including peripheral and central sensitization. Sensitization is a contributor to clinical phenomena of allodynia and hyperalgesia. Central sensitization is a part of modulation that occurs in the spinal cord, and this mechanism is intimately linked with descending control mechanisms, which can be impaired in patients with chronic pain.

April 26, 2023

Pain perception and coping with pain 

Once the nociceptive transmission reaches the brain, it is distributed to many brain structures, which then contribute to all of the aspects of what we call pain. Until that point, all of the physiological processes are nociception. It is activation of these multiple mechanisms that allows the person experiencing pain to also form their resources to cope with pain, at which point their brain structures become a part of descending pain modulation.

May 10, 2023

Affective, cognitive, behavioral, psychosocial, and spiritual aspects of pain

Multiple areas of the central nervous system participate in perception of and coping with pain as outlined in the previous presentations. In addition to sensory perception of pain,  affective, cognitive, psychosocial, and spiritual factors in perception of  pain interact with the environment to result in what is finally the experience of pain that is unique to each person. 

May 24, 2023

Pain measurement and assessment in humans

The preceding sessions of this course presented the complexity of the pain experience in healthy people as well as in people with acute and chronic pain. This session will present overall strategies to assess and measure pain in a variety of clinical circumstances, as well as challenges of obtaining and interpreting that information.

June 14, 2023

Pain measurement and assessment in animals, including chronic pain models 

Animal models are very important for the study of pain mechanisms on a finer anatomical level including molecular approaches and invasive physiological methods, which provide the finer details of pain mechanisms. 

June 28, 2023

Animal models of pain and human models of pain

This session will be a grand summary of the IPLS course, demonstrating how animal and human models provide a platform to study pain and pain mechanisms, which are then used to translate that knowledge into approaches for assessment and treatment of pain.