Dr. Robert Peoples, Biomedical Sciences

Study provides new insight into how propofol, other sedatives behave in brain

MILWAUKEE – A Marquette University professor is part of a research team that has discovered a unique target in the brain for propofol, the most common sedative used in preparation for surgical anesthesia. Robert Peoples, associate professor of biomedical sciences in the university’s College of Health Sciences, collaborated with Luis Aguayo of the University of Concepcion, Chile, and others to perform the study, has been published in the September 2011 issue of the journal Anesthesiology.

The discovery of this novel target provides new insight into how propofol behaves and could be useful in the development of new sedatives.

According to Peoples, it is widely known that propofol acts on the GABAA receptor, a protein that responds to one of the brain’s most important neurotransmitters, known as GABA. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which accounts for its role in sedation. However, Peoples’ study has found that propofol actually acts on a specific molecular target on the GABAA receptor, a single amino acid in a region called the “main intracellular loop.” No other common sedatives target the main intracellular loop.

“Basically, there is one amino acid – in this intracellular loop – that is critically important for propofol to work effectively,” Peoples said. “But this same amino acid is not important for other sedatives.”

Peoples received his Ph.D. in pharmacology in 1989 from Purdue University. He was a National Research Council Fellow, and later a Senior Staff Fellow, at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. In 1998 he was appointed Chief of the Unit of Cellular Neuropharmacology at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health. He joined the Marquette faculty in August 2003 and was promoted to associate professor in 2008.

For a copy of the complete study or to interview Peoples, please contact Christopher Stolarski, senior communication specialist, at (414) 288-1988 or christopher.stolarski@marquette.edu

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