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Research unit director

Artur Kania, PhD

  • Director, Neural Circuit Development research unit
  • Associate IRCM Research Professor
  • Associate Research Professor, Department of Medicine (accreditation in molecular biology), Université de Montréal
  • Adjunct Professor, Department of Medicine (Division of Experimental Medicine), Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, and Department of Biology, McGill University 

The function of our nervous system is to translate sensory stimuli such as pain into voluntary movement. The basic units of nervous system output are motor neurons which transmit the summation of the motor system’s activity to muscles. Interest in the assembly of the motor system has been spurned by the susceptibility of motor neurons to neurodegenerative diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, developmental defects associated with movement disorders and the search for spinal cord injury therapies.

To understand how the motor system is assembled, we are using genetic and cellular manipulations in mouse and chick, and have identified two classes of proteins, called netrins and ephrins, that motor neurons use to connect to their targets. We are studying how these signals are integrated which is a major question in neurobiology. Significantly, the same signals are involved in cancer and neurological disorders and our experiments are aimed to get insights into those conditions.

Pain is essential for our survival but diseases affecting it leave many Canadians suffering from chronic pain. Pain sensation is poorly understood and we are still struggling with very simple questions: how do we locate the source of pain in our bodies? Can we have pain without touch sensation? How can our bodies cope better with chronic pain?

Pain sensation is relayed to the brain via specific nerve tracts. We are using mouse genetic tools that label such connections to generate a connectivity diagram of the pain system. We are also using these tools to inactivate specific pain nerve pathways, and to study how this impacts normal pain sensation as well as chronic pain. The goal of these experiments is to assign a specific pain function to defined nerve pathways, in the hope that we could silence them to alleviate chronic pain without disrupting normal sensation.

Other affiliations

  • Reviewing Editor, The Journal of Neuroscience
  • Section Editor, Neuroscience
  • Member, Quebec Pain Research Network, Fonds de recherche du Québec Santé

Degrees and relevant experience

  • PhD in human and molecular genetics, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas, USA (1991-1996)
  • Predoctoral fellow, Human and Molecular Genetics, Dr. Hugo Bellen’s laboratory, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas, USA (1991-1996)
  • Postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. Thomas M. Jessell’s laboratory, Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, Columbia University, New York, USA (1996-2000)
  • Associate researcher, Dr. Thomas M. Jessell’s laboratory, Center for Neurobiology and Behavior, Columbia University, New York, USA (2000-2004)
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