The Division Physiology, headed by Prof. Dr. Gerald Obermair, was founded in 2019. Our research focuses on investigating the role of nerve cells in health and disease. We investigate how brain nerve cells form connections (synapses) with each other and why these connections are critical for learning and memory formation. In particular, we study the role of so-called calcium channels, cellular proteins that regulate the important second messenger calcium. Our findings also provide us with novel insights into the mechanisms underlying neurological diseases such as autism, schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease. The Division Physiology thus strengthens the research focus on Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Karl Landsteiner University.
Calcium channels regulate a variety of important functions including synaptic transmission, learning and memory, muscle contraction and hormone release (see figure). Dysfunctions of these ion channels result in various neuronal and endocrine diseases such as autism, anxiety, schizophrenia, Parkinson's, diabetes, eye diseases and various forms of muscle weakness. In our research, we focus on the role of calcium channels in brain nerve cells. Calcium channels regulate the entry of calcium into nerve cells in response to an electrical stimulus; for this reason, the channels are referred to as voltage-activated calcium channels. The channels consist of an α1 subunit, which forms the pore through which calcium flows into the celsl (see figure), as well as the regulatory β and α2δ subunits.
α2δ proteins regulate calcium channels on the one hand and are involved in the formation of synapses on the other. In addition, α2δ proteins are the targets of the widely used drugs gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica), which are prescribed for the treatment of epilepsy and, above all, chronic pain. In our laboratory, we have developed methods that allow us investigating the functions of α2δ subunits in synapse formation in individual nerve cells. This helps us to understand the role of these proteins in normal and disease-modified brain functions.
We mainly use the following approaches:
- Culturing nerve cells and nerve cell networks in the laboratory.
- High-resolution fluorescence microscopy (see image gallery).
- Measurements of electrical currents through calcium channels and synaptic transmissions in nerve cells using electrophysiology.