Frank Porreca: The Impact Report

Impact Report

Frank Porreca, PhD, wants people to know that concussion changes lives

Frank Porreca, the Associate Department Head of Pharmacology at the University of Arizona, has studied pain and pain relief since he was a graduate student at Temple University in the 1970’s. “It was a very exciting time—a time when the endogenous opioid receptors, and the endogenous peptides that interacted with those receptors, were just being discovered,” he said in an interview with Pain Research Forum.

Since then, Dr. Porreca has been involved in various research to better understand concussion and the impact it can have on people’s lives. His current pain research includes exploring migraine pain using animal models. “We have worked to study migraine mechanisms preclinically and have attempted to do so without producing tissue injuries, since migraine pain is pain that occurs in the absence of such injuries,” he told Pain Research Forum. “We are looking at adaptations that can enhance sensitivity to triggers that promote migraine. One of our goals is to understand how stress turns into pain biology—into activation of afferents that innervate the dura mater. We really want to understand exactly how those links occur.”

Most recently, Porreca’s lab has been able to induce an experimental traumatic brain injury in a mouse. These injuries are similar to concussions that might occur in an athlete’s day-to-day life. The researchers measure the outcomes of the injury, which “can help us to learn mechanisms that we think may be relevant to post-traumatic headache,” Dr. Porreca says.

We had a chance to speak with Dr. Porreca to better understand the role of concussion in his work and how animal models can aid concussion research:

What does the word concussion mean to you?

Concussion is a mild traumatic injury to the brain that produces headache that can be transient or that can become persistent. Concussion can also affect cognitive functions including memory and learning, and drive changes in lifestyle and behavior.

How have concussions impacted your life or career?

I have been fortunate to not experience a concussion but I am influenced by the knowledge of friends and family who have. I have been dramatically influenced by an employee whose concussion-related headaches became so debilitating that he was no longer able to pursue a professional life.

What is the end goal of your study of concussion on animal models? 

We want to know what kind of triggers will be important in precipitating post-traumatic headaches. With athletes, for example, who have a traumatic brain injury—should they return to playing sports, should they have the stress of academic studies, should they exercise, should they stay in a dark room, should they be exposed to light?

In your opinion, why is it so important to educate your field about concussions?

Concussion is under-appreciated in its consequences. It is accepted inappropriately as a normal part of sports. As a society, we need to come to grips with how the activities that we engage in can be improved for safety. We also do not understand the consequences of concussion on the brain and we do not have adequate guidelines for return to activities or therapies for those suffering from the consequences of concussion.

If you could share one piece of information about concussion, what would it be?

Concussion can change lives.

Frank Porreca, PhD, is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for the International Concussion Society., sponsored by ICS, is the No. 1 destination for information related to concussion prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Our mission is to serve medical professionals, athletes, administrators, coaches, patients and the public by providing a central repository of accurate and scientifically vetted concussion research. Working alongside our world-class scientific advisory board, aims to be the most trusted global index on one of the most common, yet least understood, forms of traumatic brain injury.