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THERAPEP - THERApeutic application of neuroPEPtides

Brain neurotransmitters against skin inflammations

Barbara Kofler, Head of the Diagnostics and Research Laboratory at the Salzburg University Clinic of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, is in charge of the Laura Bassi Centre of Expertise THERAPEP. Together with her team she examines the way neuropeptides control inflammations in the human body. The objective is to develop a gentle alternative to cortisone.


“God is a neuropeptide”, as US neuroscientist Candace Pert once provocatively stated to point out the immensely important function of these messengers (neurotransmitters) that control our emotions. Brain functions are mostly based on neuropeptides, also called protein hormones: they have a signalling effect. Released by neurons, they act on cell surface receptors of adjacent nerves or swim through the bloodstream to their target cells in other parts of the body. In the brain they trigger reactions like grief, love, the desire for alcohol or fat meals, and they suppress epileptic seizures. On the one hand, protein hormones are responsible for our biochemical emotional equilibrium, on the other, they control metabolic processes and bodily functions. They may cover quite a distance on the way: after all, ranging from the large arteries and veins to the finest net of capillaries, the system of blood vessels through which the tiny protein hormones are transported, is over 100,000 kilometres long. This is more then twice the circumference of the earth. The receptors in the target cells have an identifying feature, so the receptor and the hormone fit together like lock and key. As soon as the peptide has opened the receptor lock with its key, it triggers the aforementioned metabolic processes in the cell.

What is galanin for?

Until now, approximately 100 human protein hormones have been discovered, whose many functions have only been analysed in part so far. One of them was detected by the Head of THERAPEP, Barbara Kofler, in 2003. She called it alarin and classified it as belonging to the galanin family of neuropeptides. The team at the Laura Bassi Centre THERAPEP researches the functions of these galanin peptides in the skin: it is assumed that peptides of the galanin family have a highly anti-inflammatory effect. If this is to be confirmed by four years of basic research, this insight could lead to new therapeutic approaches. It would then be conceivable to develop drugs for chronic inflammatory diseases based on artificially produced galanin peptides – as a gentle alternative to cortisone.

Peptide pioneer and laboratory head

Born and raised in Tyrol, Barbara Kofler studied Chemistry at the University of Innsbruck and also wrote her PhD thesis there. When she was awarded an Erwin Schrödinger fellowship, she spent two years researching at the Department for Neurobiology at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia. When she returned to Austria, she was assigned to set up a special diagnostics and research laboratory for pediatrics at the Salzburg State Hospital. Since then, Barbara Kofler has been doing basic research funded by third parties there. Her discovery of the neuropeptide alarin constitutes a scientific milestone. She currently analyses its functions in the human body. She is proud to have been put in charge of the Laura Bassi Centre: “I have become more visible on the scientific scene. So now I can distinguish myself with an exciting project off the beaten track. I am certain that we will achieve our scientific goals.”