Department of Physiology



The Department of Physiology is devoted to researching and teaching cell and organ function and their interactions and adaptations in different tissues.


Head of Department: Rodrigo Iturriaga

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The Department of Physiology is devoted to research and teaching of the cell and organs, their functions, interactions and adaptations in different tissues to several physiological and pathophysiological conditions. We want to contribute to studies of the mechanism(s) that regulate cell interactions with their environment, thereby, adapting the individual to different environmental conditions. We also study the processes, mechanisms and the cell signaling cascades involved in homeostatic responses analyzing possible alterations in pathologies such as hypertension, stress, diabetes, spinal cord regeneration and several types of cancer. Part of our studies include research of intracellular signaling cascades as they relate to hormones and trophic signals in health and disease, including studies with electrophysiological and physical-chemical methods for understanding the molecular details of multiple cell receptors. We use a variety of experimental models including various cell line primary cultures and the use of experimental animals, including transgenic lines, affected by acute and chronic diseases. We also address mechanism(s) of drug actions related to these cascades and their involvement in pathology. Animal behavioral studies in acute and chronic conditions are also conducted regularly to assess the role of neurotransmitters such as histamine and others.

The Department is focused around three fundamental units related to the main research interests of our professors. The three units are: Neurobiology, focused on the study of the nervous system, pathophysiology and Cellular Communications, interested in the vascular system and the kidney with emphasis on tissue inflammation/fibrosis, and Endocrinology and Reproduction, plus cancer research.


  • Julio Amigo
  • Nelson Barrera
  • Mauricio Boric
  • Francisca Bronfman
  • Margarita Calvo
  • Xavier Figueroa
  • Alejandro Godoy
  • Rodrigo Iturriaga
  • Ricardo Moreno
  • Eugenia Morselli
  • Gareth Owen
  • Juan Carlos Saez
  • María Victoria Velarde
  • Manuel Villalon
  • Carlos Vio

Research Lines

Neurobiology Unit

The research interests of this unit include the neurobiology of sensory perception, chemoreceptors and respiratory regulation, ; mechanisms of endocrine and neuronal rhythms and their relationship to motivated behavior, ; the role of histamine in the activated behavior in the infralimbic cortex, ; the interaction of neuronal-glial cells; the role of the Schwann cell, ; molecular, cellular and physiological aspects related to axonal degeneration and regeneration, cellular mechanisms regulating neurotrophic and neurotrophin signals, ; molecular, cellular and physiological mechanisms of neuronal plasticity induced by damage; the molecular mechanisms of agonist-receptor interaction and co-synaptic transmission, nicotinic and purinergic receptors, allosteric modulation, and the electrophysiology of normal and mutant ion channels in studies with agonists and antagonists.

Pathophysiology and Communication Unit

Endothelial signaling mechanisms and regulation of vascular tone, regulation of vascular wall in health and disease, kidney function and endocrine determination of enzymes, receptors and molecules key to their cellular function, kidney damage and repair mechanisms, including fibrosis, signal transduction in diabetes, the regulation and function of intercellular junctions, molecular aspects and acquired and genetic diseases, and different inflammation-mediated intercellular communication channels.

Unit of Endocrinology and Reproduction

Apoptosis and gametogenesis, fertilization and early embryo development, extracellular metalloproteases, cellular mechanisms of hormonal and paracrine regulation in cancer, neuronal growth and differentiation, signaling in epithelia mucociliados epithelial and transport mechanisms in the reproductive and respiratory tract, synergism and intracellular communication networks crossed with different extracellular messengers, molecular aspects of membrane receptors and their association with other proteins unique to receptor responses, and the processes and physical-chemical mechanisms that regulate the function of cell membrane receptors.


Physiology, as a lecture subject, was implemented about 80 years ago with a mission of teaching students in the Medicine School. With this goal in mind the Spanish Professor Dr. J. Pi-Suñer was hired, and began his teaching and scientific activities between 1931 and 1933. Dr. Pi-Suñer was surrounded by brilliant medical students motivated by physiology, and he developed the first experimental activities incipiently called "practical work." Over the years, some teaching assistants, originally medical students, left their medical practice to devote "full time" to research and university teaching. Among these pioneers was Dr. Hector Croxatto, who had a passion for experimental research and dedicated more than 50 years to research in vasoactive peptides formed from blood proteins. Professor Croxatto attracted numerous doctor student, who eventually formed the foundation of the Department. Over the years many of his students studied abroad and returned to the medical school with formal lines of research. At the creation of the School of Biological Sciences in 1970 the Department of Physiological Sciences and Embryology was formed with a handful of teachers from both the Medical School and the School of Education. These academics were devoted to the study of both the cellular basis for the regulation of blood pressure, as well as in different topics of endocrinology and reproduction, steroid and hypothalamic hormones and Embryology, and gametogenesis. All of these academics specialized abroad and contributed to the management of various experimental methods. Over the years, each of these researchers achieved independence and achieved scientific excellence by periodically publishing in high impact international journals.

During the past 30 years the Department has been comprised of 18 professors each with a doctoral degree in physiology and related disciplines and/or postdoctoral training abroad. During this period created the Physiology major in the doctoral program at the School of Biological Sciences was created and has graduated about 80 PhDs. Through CONICYT projects, the Millennium Science Initiative, or international agencies professors lead a broad international network of scientific contacts and steadily fund their research in projects of increasing scale. Many integrate centers of excellence and all travel annually to world events in their specialty to lecture and present their experimental results.