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Pain | Opioids | glia

Research to improve the lives of those living with chronic pain.


The Problem of Pain

Chronic pain is pervasive and afflicts 1 in 5 adult Canadians. As the population ages and modern medicine allows people to survive serious illness, that number is expected to swell to 1 in 3. Chronic pain also affects young children, with 6–8% of children in Canada living with intense and frequent pain. That the problem of chronic pain persists, and is growing, is striking and highlights a major gap in our understanding of the fundamental neurobiology of pain.

Our work aims to answer key questions such as: How does our body tell us something is painful?  Why do certain people go on to develop chronic pain whereas others, with apparently similar disorders or injuries, do not?  Why is pain so difficult to treat? And how do opioids, which are the mainstay of pain therapy, cause their side effects?

To begin to unravel the paradox of pain, our research focuses on discovering the fundamental molecules and processes involved in chronic pain and enhancing the utility of opioid drugs in treating pain conditions.  A strong focus of our research is the role of an understudied class of cells known as microglia, which are immune cells in the central nervous system, and the complex interplay between microglia and neurons in chronic pain and opioid analgesia.

Our Research Themes

1) Neurobiology of acute and chronic pain

2) Neurobiology of microglia (immune cells in the brain and spinal cord)

3) Opioid therapy and unwanted side effects associated with opioids

4) Arthritis Pain



To study the cellular mysteries of pain, we use a range of techniques that encompass biochemical, molecular, live cell imaging, and behavioural manipulations.  Cutting edge technology enables us to employ an integrative and comprehensive approach to dissect the key genes and proteins that drive chronic pain at the single cell and whole systems level.


Principal Investigator

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Dr. Tuan Trang

Associate Professor

Dr. Trang obtained his BSc (Honours) and PhD degrees from Queen’s University.  His doctoral training in Pharmacology and Toxicology focused on the effects of opioid drugs in the brain and spinal cord.  He was then a CIHR Postdoctoral Fellow at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, where he expanded his area of expertise into the study of chronic pain.  Dr. Trang is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Comparative Biology and Experimental Medicine (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine) and the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology (Cumming School of Medicine).  He is also a full member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute, and an associate member of the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute.  Dr. Trang is the recipient of a CIHR New Investigator Award and he is a Rita Allen Foundation Scholar.

Dr. Trang enjoys playing Star Wars with his son, reading books with his daughter, and playing tug of rope with his crazy Labrador Retriever.  Pre-kids he was actively involved in basketball, tennis, and martial arts.

Contact:     (403) 220 8357   |



Nikita Burke, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Nikita completed her BSc and PhD in Neuroscience at the National University of Ireland, Galway, examining how neuroinflammation mediates the link between depression and pain. During her PhD, Nikita visited the Universidad Complutense Madrid, where she showed that early-life stress exacerbates neuropathic pain-related behaviour in a sex-dependent manner. Her first post-doc, in collaboration with Alkermes, examined antidepressant action of opioids in preclinical models. Her interest in pain and opioids led her to join Dr. Trang’s lab where she is researching the long-term consequences of neonatal pain. Nikita loves yoga, food, music gigs, and enjoys volunteering with the Branch Out Neurological Foundation.


Nicole Burma, BSc

Leaders in Medicine MD/PhD Candidate

Nicole acquired her BSc (Biology, Co-op) from the University of Victoria in 2013. Having a personal and academic interest in neuroscience research, Nicole started her graduate training in the Trang Lab in July 2013. Nicole’s research focuses on the role of microglia in opiate withdrawal using behavioural, biochemical, and live-cell imaging approaches. Outside of the lab, Nicole enjoys skiing (cross-country and downhill), horseback riding, home decorating and cuddling with her kitty Mumu. She also loves to travel, particularly to tropical destinations.     

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Rebecca Dalgarno, MSc

Lab Assistant

Rebecca completed her undergraduate degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology at Mount Royal University before starting her MSc in the Trang lab in 2015. Her MSc project focused on the cellular correlates of neuropathic pain, looking at purinergic signalling in the spinal dorsal horn following nerve injury. She is currently working in the lab helping out with various side projects, working on papers and enjoying being an active member of the Trang lab. Outside of research, Rebecca’s main interests include playing with her dog Maggie, staying active with squash and soccer and reading fantasy novels! 


Churmy Fan, MSC

PhD Candidate

Originally from Vancouver, Churmy completed her MSc in Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of British Columbia. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Neurosciences in the Trang Lab, investigating microglial mechanisms in chronic pain. Outside the lab, Churmy is actively involved in the community as a co-founder of the Boss Dodgeball League. In her spare time, Churmy enjoys taking care of her reef aquarium, and doing agility with her dogs Bui Bui and Penny. 

Charlie Kwok, PHD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Charlie completed her PhD studies with Dr. Gareth Hathway and Prof. Victoria Chapman at the University of Nottingham, U.K., and her first post-doctoral training with Prof. Maria Fitzgerald at University College London. She joined the lab in November, 2016. She will be researching the short and long term consequences of pain and opioid treatments during early life, and the relationship between chronic pain and motor functions. Outside of the lab she likes to run, cook and travel. She has toured all over Asia and Europe and is looking forward to new adventures in North America.


Heather Leduc-Pessah, PHD

Leaders in Medicine MD/PhD Candidate

Originally from Ottawa, Heather completed a BSc in Biochemistry at Queen's University and is excited to be continuing her studies at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute! Heather defended her PhD in May 2017, and is now working towards her MD at the University of Calgary. Heather's research investigates the role of microglia in response to morphine, as well as the role of microglial P2X7Rs in the development of analgesic tolerance. Outside the lab, Heather enjoys an active role in the Leaders in Medicine program, hiking and skiing, and volunteering at the Children’s Cottage Society.

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Jiaying (JOY) Li, MSc

Lab Manager

Joy is fascinated with the world and wanted to explore on a cellular or molecular level the ways in which life exists. Joy received her B.Eng in Bioengineering at Southeast University in 2013. She then came to Canada to pursue her MSc in Animal Science at University of Alberta. During her master's degree, she worked on the impact of early life antibiotic exposure on gut microbial population and metabolic diseases. After graduation, she was hired as a Lab Manager at University of Alberta, studying microbial profiling in hydraulic fracturing flowback and produced water. Due to the interest in animal behavior models and neuroscience, she joined the lab in April 2017. Joy loves hiking, travelling, dancing, and enjoys spending time in museums and zoos.


Mike Mousseau, BSc

PhD Candidate

Mike received his BSc in Neuroscience from St. Lawrence University, New York. Following graduation, he pursued a post-bachelor research opportunity in Washington, DC, working for the US Department of Defense studying traumatic brain injury. Mike is currently a PhD candidate in the Trang lab where he investigates the role of the central nervous system in chronic arthritis pain. Away from the lab, he enjoys watching his hometown Ottawa Senators and keeping active playing recreational hockey. At home, Mike enjoys spending time and going to the park with his dog Mika. 

Past Members

Where are they now?

Cynthia Xu, MSc Student (defended 2017)

Kristina Komarek, Summer Student (2017)

Rachel Redick, Summer Student (2017)

Ally Pilapil, MSc Student (defended 2016)

Zoe Cairncross, Summer Student (2014, 2015)

Jordan Haidey, Summer Student (2015)

David Lau, Summer Student (2014)

Joanna Rybicka, Summer Student (2013)

Medical School, University of Manitoba

BSc, University of Toronto Scarborough

Veterinary School, University of Calgary

Ember Dance Company

MSc of Public Health, University of Toronto

MSc in Neuroscience, University of Calgary 

BSc in Neuroscience, University of Calgary

Veterinarian (Saskatchewan)


2014 & earlier

Mattioli, T.A., Leduc-Pessah, H., Skelhorne-Gross, G., Nicol, C.J.B., Milne, B., Trang, T., Cahill, C.M. (2014).  Toll-like receptor 4 mutant and null mice retain morphine induced tolerance, hyperalgesia and physical dependence, PLOS One, 9(5): e97361.

Bourinet, E., Altier, C., Hildebrand, M.E., Trang, T., Salter, M.W., Zamponi, G.W. (2014). Calcium-permeable ion channels in pain signaling, Physiological Reviews, 94(1):81-140.

Ferrini, F., Trang, T. *(co-first author), Mattioli, T., Laffray, S., Del’Guidice, T., Lorenzo, L., Castonguay, A., Doyon, N., Zhang, W., Godin, A., Mohr, D., Beggs, S., Vandal, K., Beaulieu, J., Cahill, C., Salter, M.W., De Koninck, Y. (2013).  Morphine hyperalgesia gated through microglia-mediated disruption of neuronal chloride homeostasis, Nature Neuroscience, 16(2):183-192. [Faculty of 1000 Prime, Must Read]

Sorge, R., Trang, T. *(co-first author), Dorfman, R., Smith, S., Beggs, S., Ritchie, J., Austin, J., Zaykin, D.V., Vander Meulen, H., Costigan, M., Herbert, T.A., Yarkoni-Abitbul, M., Tichauer, D., Livneh, J., Gersh, D., Zheng, M., Tan, K., Johns, S.L., Slade, G.D., Jordan, J., Woolf, C.J., Peltz, G., Maixner, W., Diatchenko, L., Seltzer, Z., Salter, M.W., Mogil, J.S. (2012). Genetically determined P2X7 receptor pore formation regulates variability in chronic pain sensitivity, Nature Medicine, 18(4):595-9.

Trang, T., Salter, M.W. (2012). P2X4-purinoceptor signaling in chronic pain, Purinergic Signalling, 8(3):621-8.

Beggs, S., Trang, T., Salter, M.W.  Microglia and pain. Neuroglia, Third Edition. (ed. Helmet Kettenmann and Bruce Ransom) Oxford University Press, Chapter 68, 2012.

Trang, T., Beggs, S., Salter, M.W. (2012). Brain-derived neurotrophic factor from microglia: a cellular substrate for neuropathic pain, Neuron Glia Biology, 7(1):99-108.

Beggs, S., Trang, T., Salter, M.W. (2012). The P2X4R+ microglial state: An essential role in neuropathic pain, Nature Neuroscience, 15(8): 1068-1073.

Trang, T., Beggs, S., Salter, M.W. (2012). ATP receptors gate microglia signaling in neuropathic pain, Experimental Neurology, 234(2):354-61.

Trang, T., Beggs, S., Wan, X., Salter, M. (2009). P2X4R-receptor mediated synthesis and release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor in microglia is dependent on calcium and p38-mitogen-activated protein kinase activation, Journal of Neuroscience, 29(11): 3518-3528.

Trang, T., Koblic, P., Kawaja, M., Jhamandas, K.H. (2009). Attenuation of opioid analgesic tolerance in p75 neurotrophin receptor null mutant mice, Neuroscience Letters, 451(1): 69-73.

Trang, T., Sutak, M., Jhamandas, K.H. (2007). Involvement of cannabinoid (CB1)-receptors in the development and maintenance of opioid tolerance, Neuroscience, 146(3): 1275-1288.  

McNaull, B., Trang, T., Sutak, M., Jhamandas, K.H. (2007). Inhibition of tolerance to spinal morphine analgesia by low doses of opioid receptor antagonists, European Journal of Pharmacology, 560(2-3): 132-41.  

Beggs, S., Trang, T., Salter, M.W.  Role of ATP and microglia in enhanced pain states.  Immune and Glia Regulation of Pain. (eds. Linda Watkins, Joyce DeLeo, and Linda Sorkin) International Association for the Study of Pain, pp. 283-295, 2007.

Trang, T. (2007). Inhibition of fatty acid amide hydrolase: A potential treatment for neuropathic pain, Journal of Neuroscience, 27: 3364-3365.

Trang, T., Chabot, J.-G., Ma, W., Quirion, R., Jhamandas, K.H. (2006). Spinal modulation of calcitonin gene-related peptide by endocannabinoids in development of opioid physical dependence, Pain, 126: 256-271.

Trang, T., Beggs, S., Salter, M.W. (2006). Purinoceptors in microglia and neuropathic pain, Pflugers Archive, 452(5): 645-652.

Trang, T., Quirion, R., Milne, B., Jhamandas, K. Role of pain transmitters and arachidonic acid-derived metabolites in the development of opioid tolerance and physical dependence. Recent Developments in Pain Research. (ed. Anna Capasso) Research Signpost, pp. 137-153, 2005.

Trang, T., Quirion, R., Jhamandas, K.H. (2005). The spinal basis of opioid tolerance and physical dependence: Involvement of calcitonin gene-related peptide, substance P, and arachidonic acid-derived metabolites, Peptides, 26(8): 1346-1355.

Trang, T., McNaull, B., Sutak, M., Quirion, R., Jhamandas, K.H. (2004). Involvement of spinal lipoxygenase metabolites in hyperalgesia and opioid tolerance, European Journal of Pharmacology, 491: 21-30.

Trang, T., Sutak, M., Quirion, R., Jhamandas, K.H. (2003). Spinal administration of lipoxygenase inhibitors suppresses behavioural and neurochemical manifestations of naloxone-precipitated opioid withdrawal, British Journal of Pharmacology, 140(2): 295-304.

Trang, T., Sutak, M., Quirion, R., Jhamandas, K.H.(2002).The role of spinal neuropeptides and prostaglandins in opioid physical dependence, British Journal of Pharmacology136(1): 37-48.

Beyond Science

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The Trang Laboratory

The University of Calgary

Hotchkiss Brain Institute

3330 Hospital Dr NW
Calgary, AB, T2N 4N1


Please contact Dr. Trang for more information about our research and available lab positions:

(403) 220 8357    |