Neuropeptides are protein-like signalling molecules that regulate many important physiological processes and behaviours.

Neuropeptides regulate a wide range of physiological functions, including reproduction, water balance, cardiovascular function, energy homeostasis, circadian rhythm, pain, learning and memory, and complex social behaviours.

An increasing number of bioactive peptides from animals, plants, and bacteria have been characterised, with the overwhelming realisation that these molecules often display better therapeutic performance than their human counterparts.

We work at the interface of chemistry and biology, with a strong passion for translational research. Our interests lie in neuropeptide research and the exploration of nature's biodiversity to develop advanced molecular tools, diagnostics and therapeutics.

We use chemistry, molecular biology, and pharmacology to study the interactions of these highly potent and selective molecules with human physiology for medical innovations in gastrointestinal disorders, neuropathic pain, autism, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Group leader

Associate Professor Markus Muttenthaler

Associate Professor Markus Muttenthaler

Group Leader, Neuropeptide research

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  UQ Researcher Profile

Oxytocin and vasopressin research

The oxytocin and vasopressin signalling system regulates many fundamental physiological processes such as reproduction, water balance, cardiovascular responses and complex social behaviour. It is also a high-profile target for autism, schizophrenia, stress, depression, anxiety, cancer and pain. Our group is particularly interested in creating a complete molecular toolbox to study this signalling system as well as in discovering novel therapeutic leads for autism, pain, gastrointestinal disorders and breast cancer.

Neuropeptides and memory

Memory is probably the single most important brain process that defines our personality and gives us the sense of individuality. Emotional events often cause the generation of strong memories that exist for many years, yet the underlying mechanisms are still poorly understood. Neuropeptides are key players in regulating emotions and have been associated with long-term memory formation. Our group is involved in the development of advanced molecular probes to understand how neuropeptides can influence long-term memory formation.

Gastrointestinal disorders

The gastrointestinal epithelium is a major physical barrier that protects us from diverse, and potentially immunogenic or toxic content. A damaged epithelium results in increased permeability to such content, thus leading to inflammation, uncontrolled immune response, and diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease that affect 10-15% of the population. Our group is involved in the identification and validation of novel drug targets and therapeutic strategies that can protect or repair this important barrier in order to prevent or treat such disorders.

Venoms to drugs

Venoms comprise a highly complex cocktail of bioactive peptides evolved to paralyse prey and defend against predators. Homology of prey/predator receptors to human receptors render these venom peptides also active on human receptors and they have become a rich source for neurological tools and therapeutics. Our group is involved in the discovery, synthesis and structure-activity relationship studies of these venom peptides with the goal to develop novel probes for neuroscientists as well as therapeutic drug leads.

Typical 3D NMR structures of disulfide-rich venom peptides

Dr Muttenthaler is internationally recognised for his expertise in neuropeptide research, venom peptide drug discovery, and his pioneering methods in medicinal and peptide chemistry. His work focuses on developing tools to facilitate fundamental research as well as drug discovery. He recently received the prestigious Miklós Bodanszky Award for his outstanding contributions for peptide-based drug research.

  • Venom peptide drug discovery
  • Multivalent ligand development
  • Molecular probe development to study long-term memory formation
  • Understanding the role of the oxytocin receptor in breast and prostate cancer
  • Therapeutic lead development for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders
  • Tracer development targeting GPCRs in cancer (near-infrared, PET imaging)
  • Oxytocin and vasopressin research