Mark Kristal, Ph.D., professor of psychology at UB and director the graduate program in behavioral neuroscience, has received a two-year $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, to test his hypothesis.
In 1986 Kristal discovered an opioid-enhancing molecule he called the Placental Opioid-Enhancing Factor or POEF.
His discovery led to a series of studies that shed light on the way in which POEF modulates how opioids inhibit nociceptive processing in the nervous system -- processing in specific areas of the brain that recognize certain kinds of pain.
Kristal says this research may lead to novel ways of treating addiction in humans by manipulating the effectiveness of the opiates we produce in our own bodies. It also may enable physicians to obtain current levels of pain relief, he says, "by administering much, much, much smaller amounts of opioid analgesics."
POEF is found in amniotic fluid and afterbirth. The new study, whose subjects will be mice, will test the hypothesis that it not only modulates pain, but operates on two specific brain centers to influence the subsequent emergence of maternal behavior.
"We think that endogenous opioid activation in the central nervous system at the end of pregnancy and during delivery -- that is, activity produced within the mammal, not introduced from without -- has a complex effect on maternal behavior," Kristal says. "It is our contention that this activation not only suppresses pain during delivery, but is responsible as well for the emergence of caretaking behavior toward the young.