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Anatomy and Cell Biology

School of Medicine > Anatomy and Cell Biology > Faculty > Julie A. Carlsten Christianson, Ph.D.

Julie A. Carlsten Christianson, PhD

Associate Professor
Director, Anatomy and Cell Biology Graduate Program
Anatomy and Cell Biology

Ph.D., 2003, University of Kansas Medical Center, Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
Postdoctoral, 2003-2007, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Department of Medicine, Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition

An estimated 5-30% of the population suffers from one or more functional pain disorders affecting the pelvic organs. Unfortunately, existing treatment options offer little relief as these disorders are generally not associated with any underlying pathology and the mechanisms generating the heightened pain sensations are poorly understood. The focus of my lab is to study how the relationship between neurotrophic growth factors and pain-related channel expression and function drives the nociceptive tone of pelvic afferents relaying pain information from the affected area. Neurotrophic growth factors, including nerve growth factor (NGF), glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), artemin and neurturin are expressed at high levels during embryonic and postnatal development and are essential for establishing proper sensory innervation of peripheral tissues. Injury or inflammation during these early developmental stages can cause permanent changes in sensory processing, resulting in enhanced behavioral and cellular responses to painful (noxious) stimuli. Mice that received intracolonic mustard oil application during early postnatal development have a prolonged period of developmentally-high growth factor expression in the colon. We hypothesize that this may underlie their significantly heightened response to colorectal distension as adults, as well as the observed increase in the percentage of colon-specific sensory neurons that express the transient receptor potential channel ankyrin 1 (TRPA1; Christianson et al., Pain, in press). We are currently investigating whether neonatal vaginal irritation or stress caused from maternal separation will produce a similar effect with the ultimate goal of identifying common mechanisms as potential targets for therapeutic intervention in the treatment of chronic pelvic pain.


  1. Carlsten JA, Kothary R, Wright DE. Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor-responsive and neurotrophin-3-responsive neurons require the cytoskeletal linker protein dystonin for postnatal survival. J Comp Neurol 2001; 432(2):155-68.
  2. Wright DE, Williams JM, McDonald JT, Carlsten JA, Taylor MD. Muscle-derived neurotrophin-3 reduces injury-induced proprioceptive degeneration in neonatal mice. J Neurobiol 2002; 50(3):198-208.
  3. Molliver DC, Cook SP, Carlsten JA, Wright DE, McCleskey EW. ATP and UTP excite sensory neurons and induce CREB phosphorylation through the metabotrophic receptor, P2Y2. Eur J Neurosci 2002; 16(10):1850-60.
  4. Christianson JA,Riekhof JT, Wright DE. Restorative effects of neurotrophin treatment on diabetes-induced cutaneous axon loss in mice. Exp Neurol 2003; 179:188-99.
  5. Tan W, Rouen S, Barkus KM, Dremina YS, Hui D, Christianson JA, Wright DE, Yoon SO, Dobrowsky RT. Nerve growth factor blocks the glucose-induced downregulation of caveolin-1 expression in schwann cells via p75 neurotrophin receptor signaling. J Biol Chem 2003; 278(25):23151-62.
  6. Christianson JA, Ryals JM, McCarson KE, Wright DE. Beneficial actions of neurotrophin treatment on diabetes-induced hypoalgesia in mice. J Pain 2003; 4(9):493–504.
  7. Wright DE, Ryals JM, McCarson KE, Christianson JA. Diabetes-induced expression of ATF3 by mouse primary sensory neurons. J Peripher Nerv Syst 2004; 9(4):242-54.
  8. Bielefeldt K, Christianson JA, Davis BM. Basic and clinical aspects of visceral sensation: transmission in the CNS. Neurogastroenterol Motil 2005; 17(4):488-99.
  9. Christianson JA, Traub RJ, Davis BM. Differences in spinal distribution and neurochemical phenotype of colonic afferents in mouse and rat. J Comp Neurol 2006; 494(2):246–59.
  10. Christianson JA, McIlwrath SL, Koerber HR, Davis BM. Transient receptor potential vanilloid 1-immunopositive neurons in the mouse are more prevalent within colon afferents compared to skin and muscle afferents. Neuroscience 2006; 140(1):247-57.
  11. Christianson JA, Liang R, Ustinova EE, Davis BM, Fraser MO, Pezzone MA. Convergence of bladder and colon sensory innervation occurs at the primary afferent level. Pain 2007; 128(3):235-43.
  12. Christianson JA, Ryals JM, Johnson MS, Dobrowsky RT, Wright DE. Neurotrophic modulation of myelinated cutaneous innervation and mechanical sensory loss in diabetic mice. Neuroscience 2007; 145(1):303-13.
  13. Christianson JA, Gebhart GF. Assessment of colon sensitivity by luminal distension in mice. Nat Protoc 2007; 2(10): 2624-31.
  14. Zhong F, Christianson JA, Davis BM, Bielefeldt K. Dichotomizing axons in spinal and vagal afferents of the mouse stomach. Dig Dis Sci 2008; 53(1): 194-203.
  15. Fasanella* KE, Christianson* JA, Chanthaphavong RS, Davis BM. Distribution and neurochemical identification of pancreatic afferents in the mouse. J Comp Neurol. 2008; 509(1): 42-52.
  16. Malin SA, Christianson JA, Bielefeldt K, Davis BM. TRPV1 expression defines functionally distinct pelvic colon afferents. J Neurosci. 2009; 29(3): 743-752.
  17. Christianson JA, Bielefeldt K, Altier C, Cenac N, Davis BM, Gebhart GF, High KW, Kollarik M, Randich A, Undem B, Vergnolle N. Development, plasticity and modulation of visceral afferents. Brain Res. Rev. 2009; 60(1):171-186.
  18. Christianson JA, Bielefeldt K, Malin SA, Davis BM. Neonatal colon insult alters growth factor expression and modulates TRPA1 responses in adult mice. In press at Pain.

Lab Team


Last modified: Aug 15, 2018

Julie A. Carlsten Christianson


Julie A. Carlsten Christianson, PhD
Associate Professor
Director, Anatomy and Cell Biology Graduate Program