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Laureate of the 2006 ATIP-avenir program


Putting an end to chronic inflammatory pain

Created by Nathalie Vergnolle, the “mediators of inflammation, infection and inflammatory pain” team researches therapeutic targets for treating chronic inflammation, using a wide range of laboratory models.

What do Crohn’s disease and arthritis have in common? As with most forms of peripheral neuropathy, both provoke pain due to chronic inflammation.

Nathalie Vergnolle is attempting to alleviate these symptoms, with support from the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, which helped her return to France and set up research at the Center for Physiopathology of Toulouse-Purpan. She and her team are exploring the roles of proteases and  their activated receptors in maintaining the inflammatory response and transmitting pain.

These enzymes, which break down proteins, are released by inflamed and/or infected tissue. They are characterized by the researchers using vascular, cellular and animal models.

Among the team’s major discoveries is elafin, a protease inhibitor that is deficient in Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis patients. The team had the idea of modifying lactic acid bacteria, which are commonly found in yoghurt and cheese, to express elafin. These bacteria naturally colonize the intestine and counterbalance the deficiency in protease inhibitors. Patients that ingest them could find relief from chronic inflammatory diseases.

The research led by Nathalie Vergnolle opens the way to numerous therapeutic innovations to cure chronic inflammation of the digestive, nervous and vascular systems.



Nathalie Vergnolle has specialized in inflammatory disease research since her postgraduate studies in 1992. After studying the pathophysiology of colitis in rats, she widened her research to intestinal inflammation during her doctoral program. For 10 years in Canada, she led her team to explain the roles of proteases and the associated receptors in the pathophysiology of inflammation. Since returning to France, she has already applied for three patents for the treatment and prevention of infection by the flu virus, irritable bowel syndrome and gluten intolerance. One of the particularities of Dr. Vergnolle’s research is the diversity of laboratory models used. Hers is the only team in France to grow human sensory neurons, which are used to decipher the mechanisms of pain.

  • 1997PhD in Pathophysiology, Paul Sabatier University, Toulouse (France)
  • 1997 - 2000Postdoctoral Research supervised by Prof. John L. Wallace, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of Calgary (Canada)
  • 2000 - 2004Assistant Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of Calgary (Canada)
  • 2004Merck-Frosst Young Investigator Award, Pharmacological Society of Canada
  • 2004 - 2007Associate Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, University of Calgary (Canada)
  • 2006Laureate of the Avenir program at Inserm in partnership with the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation
  • 2007Schlumberger Foundation Award
  • Since 2007Chief of the “mediators of inflammation and pain” team, Center for Physiopathology of Toulouse-Purpan (France)
  • 2007 - 2010Second-class research director, Inserm (France)
  • Since 2010First-class research director, Inserm (France)
  • 2013Women in Inflammation Science Award, International Association of Inflammation Societies