Researcher Spotlight: Dr. Ru-Rong Ji, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Anesthesiology, Duke University School of Medicine

Dr. Ru-Rong Ji, Ph.D., Duke University School of Medicine

Dr. Ru-Rong Ji, PhD, the chief of pain research within Duke Anesthesiology, director of the Center for Translational Pain Medicine, and a professor of anesthesiology and neurobiology, has dedicated much of his career to understanding how the nervous system perceives chronic pain. His team at Duke conducts molecular, cellular, and electrophysiological studies on human dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons using NDRI-supplied tissues.

Individuals with neuropathic pain often experience mechanical allodynia, a condition in which a low-threshold stimulus, such as a touch of fabric, creates pain. In the lab, Dr. Ji uses human DRG cells to study gene expression in human sensory neurons and test the effects of novel pain mediators and therapeutics on neuronal excitability. The research has implications for potential treatments for neuropathic pain associated with chemotherapy, nerve injury, and diabetic neuropathy.

Dr. Ji received his doctorate in neurobiology at Shanghai Institute of Physiology in China and completed his first postdoctoral fellowship at Beijing Medical University. He then completed his second postdoctoral fellowship at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and a third postdoctoral fellowship at the Department of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University, before beginning his faculty position at Duke University.

One of Dr. Ji’s recent studies (Luo et al., Neuron 2021) used NDRI-sourced tissue to examine sex dimorphism in chronic pain, a phenomenon where females are more likely to suffer from chronic pain conditions like neuropathic pain, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia. He found that macrophages, a type of white blood cell that play an integral part in the immune system, are affected by sex hormones like estrogen and androgen. Macrophages release pro-inflammatory chemicals that produce pain. In this study, they found that one of these chemicals, Interleukin-17A (IL-17A), activated pain neurons via neuro-immune interactions in female but not male mice. Using NDRI-sourced biospecimens, his team found that human DRG neurons react to IL-17A similarly, suggesting a novel target for future development of pain relief treatments.

Dr. Ru-Rong Ji, PhD; reprinted from Highly Cited Researchers List, 2022

Dr. Ji’s research has been included in more than 200 peer-reviewed publications and in every major neurobiology journal in the world. He has also been named among the most “Highly Cited Researchers” from the Web of Science from 2018 to 2022. The annual list represents the most influential researchers who have published multiple papers frequently cited by their peers that rank in the top one percent of citations for field and year.

In 2020, he received the “Excellence in Research Award” from the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) as well as the “Founder’s Award” from the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM), recognizing his outstanding contributions to the science or practice of pain medicine. Check out some of Dr. Ji’s recent publications using NDRI-sourced tissue below!

Luo et al., IL-23/IL-17A/TRPV1 axis produces mechanical pain via macrophage-sensory neuron crosstalk in female mice. Neuron. 2021 Sep 1;109(17):2691-2706.e5 https://www.cell.com/neuron/pdfExtended/S0896-6273(21)00456-6

Donnelly et al., 2021. STING controls nociception via type I interferon signaling in sensory neurons. Nature. 2021 Mar;591(7849):275-280 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33442058/

Chang et al., 2018. Expression and Role of Voltage-Gated Sodium Channels in Human Dorsal Root Ganglion Neurons with Special Focus on Nav1.7, Species Differences, and Regulation by Paclitaxel. Neurosci Bull. 2018 Feb;34(1):4-12 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5648619/

Chen et al., 2017. PD-L1 inhibits acute and chronic pain by suppressing nociceptive neuron activity via PD-1. Nat Neurosci. 2017 Jul;20(7):917-926 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5831162/