Giannina Descalzi

Giannina Descalzi

Assistant Professor

BA Guelph, MSc, PhD Toronto
 Office: Biomed 1646A
 519-824-4120 Ext. 55744

 Lab: Biomed 2621
 519-824-4120 Ext. 52041


Research Interests

  • The intersection of pain and emotion
  • Pain induced dysregulation of brain circuits and gene function
  • Chronic pain in companion and production animals
  • Multidisciplinary approach to determine causal relationships between circuit level changes in gene expression and behavioural pathology
  • Astrocyte-neuronal coupling in chronic pain
  • Chronic pain during development

My lab investigates the molecular, cellular, and genetic mechanisms involved in chronic pain development and maintenance. Research focuses on the intersection of pain and emotion, and bridges animal models of chronic pain with molecular biology and systems neuroscience to enhance our understanding of chronic pain, mental health, and circuit-wide gene function. 

Nearly one in five Canadians suffer from chronic pain, with over sixty percent experiencing depression, anxiety, and significant reductions in physical and social functioning. Chronic pain is also present in companion and production animals, and unrelieved pain is amongst the most common reason for their euthanasia. Human and animal studies show that persistent pain corresponds with long-term changes of cellular activity within brain regions involved in sensory perception and emotional responses, and we have shown that chronic pain induces changes in gene expression that resemble that of depressed patients. 

My lab’s methods span behavioural neuroscience, molecular biology, high throughput RNA-sequencing, bioinformatics, viral mediated gene transfer, and chemo-genetics. My team aims to address the urgent need for the development of novel therapeutic strategies to clinically alleviate chronic pain symptoms, and seeks to answer two main questions: 

1) How do distinct brain regions interact to generate the conscious experience of pain?
2) What are the changes that occur at the molecular, cellular, and circuit level, that take place during the transition from acute to chronic pain?

Current Graduate Students

  • Ana Leticia Simal Dourado - PhD
  • Danielle Halasz - MSc
  • Jaime Tuling - MSc


Selected Publications

  • J Tang, M Bair, Descalzi G. Reactive astrocytes: critical players in the development of chronic pain. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2021 May 28;12:682056.  
  • Cruz E, Descalzi G, Steinmetz A, Aaron K, & Alberini,CM (2021). CIM6P/IGF-2 Receptor Ligands Reverse Deficits in Angelman Syndrome Model Mice. Autism Research2021 Jan;14(1):29-45 
  • Descalzi, G. Cortical astrocyte-neuronal metabolic coupling emerges as a critical modulator of stress-induced hopelessness.   Neuroscience Bulletin2021. Jan;37(1):132-134. 
  • Descalzi G, Gao V, Steinman, MQ, & Alberini CM. Astrocytic lactate is an energy substrate required for neuronal mRNA translation underlying long-term memory. Communications Biology.  2019 Jul 2; 2:247.
  • Descalzi G, Mitsi V, Purushothaman I, Gaspari S, Avrampou K, Loh YE, Shen L, & Zachariou V. Neuropathic pain promotes gene expression adaptations in stress and depression related brain regions. Science Signaling. 2017 Mar 21;10(471).
  • Descalzi G, Ikegami D, Ushijima T, Nestler E, Zachariou V, & Narita M. Epigenetic Mechanisms of Chronic Pain. Trends in Neuroscience. 2015 Apr;38(4):237-46.
  • Koga K, Descalzi G, Chen T, Ko HG, Lu J, Li S, Son J, Kim T, Kwak C, Huganir RL, Zhao MG, Kaang BK, Collingridge GL, & Zhuo M. Coexistence of Two Forms of LTP in ACC Provides a Synaptic Mechanism for the Interactions between Anxiety and Chronic Pain. Neuron. 2015 Jan 21;85(2):377-89. 
  • Descalzi G, Chen T, Koga K, Yamada K, & Zhuo M.  Cortical GluK1 kainate receptors modulate scratching in adult mice.  Journal of Neurochemistry. 2013 Sep;126(5):636-50.
  • Descalzi G, Fukushima H, Suzuki A, Kida S, & Zhuo M.  Genetic enhancement of neuropathic and inflammatory pain by forebrain upregulation of CREB-mediated transcription. Molecular Pain. 2012 Dec 31;8(1):90.
  • Descalzi G, Li X, Chen T, Mercaldo V, Koga K, Qiu S, &  Zhuo M.   Rapid synaptic potentiation within the anterior cingulate cortex mediates trace fear learning. Molecular Brain. 2012 Feb 3; 5:6.
  • Xu B*, Descalzi G, Ye HR, Zhuo M, Wang YW.  Translational investigation and treatment of neuropathic pain (Review). Molecular Pain. 2012 Mar 9; 8:15.
  • Li XY, Ko HG, Chen T, Descalzi G, Koga K, Wang H, Kim SS, Shang Y, Kwak C, Park SW, Shim J, Lee K, Collingridge GL, Kaang BK,  & Zhuo M.  Alleviating neuropathic pain hypersensitivity by inhibiting PKMzeta in the anterior cingulate cortex.  Science. 2010 Dec 3;330(6009):1400-4.
  • Descalzi G, Kim S, & Zhuo M.  Presynaptic and postsynaptic cortical mechanisms of chronic pain (Review).  Molecular Neurobiology. 2009 40(3):253-9.