Melanie B. Elliot, PhD

Assistant Professor, Neurosurgery

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Brain trauma research by the Elliott Laboratory is uncovering post-traumatic injury mechanisms underlying disorders such as headache and chronic pain, disrupted sleep, anxiety, and memory/learning deficiencies that are prevalent in patients with traumatic brain injury.  Identifying mechanisms that initiate and maintain, but also arrest these disorders will advance progress in the therapeutic approaches to treating patients with traumatic brain injuries. 

Despite being the most common symptom of concussion and other traumatic brain injuries, little is known about the pathogenesis of post-traumatic/post-concussion headache. Dr. Elliott’s laboratory was first to publish studies on a pre-clinical model of post-traumatic headache and develop a federally funded research program to study this widespread disorder.  Dr. Elliott takes an integrated, whole-circuit approach to study post-traumatic headache. Her laboratory investigates alterations within key areas of the pain pathway as many of these areas may undergo changes following TBI depending on the type and severity of injury. The contribution of inflammatory processes to altered neuronal function in the pain circuit is studied using biochemical, molecular, immunoassay, and immunohistochemical techniques in combination with pain behavior assessments.  

Funding for two of Dr. Elliott’s research projects is provided by the Department of Defense (DoD). How peripheral and central neurons in the pain pathway become sensitized after traumatic brain injury is studied.  Pharmacological blockade and genetic modulation of key neurotransmitter systems has elucidated mechanisms driving post-traumatic headache.  In addition to pain mechanisms, Dr. Elliott studies potential therapeutic targets and works to develop the use of electroencephalography (EEG) for studying pain and as a potential monitoring tool for mild TBI in collaboration with Dr. Jeannie Chin (Neuroscience) and Dr. Jack Jallo (Neurosurgery).

Neuro-immune interactions undergo a complex progression after brain injury. Microglia, in particular, are the resident immune cells in the brain that are first to respond to injury and undergo several phenotype switches that persist months to years after injury. Dr. Elliott’s laboratory studies how microglia interact with circulating immune cells and the blood-brain-barrier contributing to damaging and healing aspects of injury.  Modulation of microglia will ultimately be involved in the optimization of recovery and repair after brain injury. In addition, Dr. Elliott argues that there is strong, long-standing evidence for the naturally occurring therapeutic properties of the endogenous cannabinoid system that can be employed for treating the disorders resulting from traumatic brain injury.   The endocannabinoid (EC) system is a well-described neurotransmitter-receptor system that is altered by brain injury and neurodegenerative diseases and is capable of potent immunomodulatory actions.