Paulo Aguiar

Computational Neuroscience | i3S, Porto

Paulo Aguiar was born in the Azores, where he felt in love with Nature and learned to be curious. After receiving his degree in Physics (BSc+MSc) from Instituto Superior Técnico (IST), University of Lisbon, Paulo Aguiar joined the Biophysics and Biomedical Engineering Institute (IBEB), Faculty of Sciences of Lisbon, where he spent one year studying biophysics. In 2006 he received his PhD from the Institute for Adaptive and Neural Computation (ANC), University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom – his thesis focused on computational models of information processing in a brain region called the hippocampus. He then returned to Portugal and joined the Neurobiology Division at the Institute for Molecular and Cellular Biology (IBMC) as a postdoc for a period of two years. In 2008 he received a position of Assistant Researcher and Lecturer in Biomathematics at the Centre for Mathematics of University of Porto (CMUP). Recently (2014) he joined the National Institute of Biomedical Engineering (INEB), now part of the i3S, as an Assistant Investigator. He is also Professor Afiliado at the Faculty of Medicine of University of Porto (FMUP) and an Associated Member of CMUP. At INEB, Paulo Aguiar is the leader of the Neuroengineering and Computational Neuroscience (NCN) team.

Decoding and bridging somatosensory information in the spinal cord using neuroengineering and computational neuroscience

Chronic pain affects close to 20% of the population. It brings not only a heavy physical and emotional burden to the individual, but also a severe financial cost to society. A key role of the nociceptive system is played by neurons in the spinal cord’s dorsal horn, which integrate and process sensory information before transmitting it to supraspinal regions, some of them responsible for pain perception. The spinal dorsal horn (SDH) provides therefore numerous potential targets for therapeutic actions addressing abnormal pain perception. Unfortunately, and despite its importance, little is known about the SDH circuits that process sensory information. Understanding how somatosensory information, and in particular nociceptive information, is integrated and transmitted in the spinal cord is essential to devise strategies to tackle chronic pain.

To address this problem we adopt a multidisciplinary approach where we look at neuronal circuits from an engineering perspective: neurons are cells specialized in information processing and information transmission. In addition to neurobiology, we use techniques from information theory, biophysics and in silico neuroscience. We combine electrophysiology experiments, morphology reconstructions, mathematical modeling, computer simulations and neuro-electric hybrid systems to reveal and understand information flow in the SDH. In this short talk I will present some of our recent results towards our ultimate goal of developing electrical spinal cord stimulation devices/protocols capable of addressing effectively different types of chronic pain.