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Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2012 on G-protein-coupled receptors

Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2012 on G-protein-coupled receptors

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 2012 to Robert J. Lefkowitz and Brian K. Kobilka for their studies on G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCR). The molecules (GPCRs) are embedded in the membrane of cells and cause significant chemical cascades when a target molecule attaches to them. That target could be anything from a hormone such as adrenaline to neurotransmitters such as dopamine. Lefkowitz fundamentally defined the field of receptor biology through his work with GPCRs. He started investigating the receptors by following the movement of radioactive isotopes attached to hormones within cells in the laboratory, trying to track down how signals get through cell membranes. He managed to unveil several receptors, among those a receptor for adrenalin: β-adrenergic receptor. His team of researchers extracted the receptor from its hiding place in the cell wall and gained an initial understanding on its working mechanisms. On the other hand, Dr. Kobilka joined the Lefkowitz’s research team in the 1980s, accepted the challenge to isolate the gene that codes for the β-adrenergic receptor from the gigantic human genome. His creative approach allowed him to attain his goal. When the researchers analyzed the gene, they discovered that the receptor was similar to one in the eye that captures light. They realized that there is a whole family of receptors that look similar and function in the same manner. Furthermore, in 2011, Kobilka achieved another breakthrough. He and his research team captured an image of the β-adrenergic receptor at the exact moment that it is activated by a hormone and sends a signal into the cell. Apparently, this ground-breaking work spanning genetics and biochemistry has laid the basis for much of our understanding of modern pharmacology as well as how cells in different parts of living organisms can react differently to external stimulation. [summarized by a graduate student of DBMB, DU]

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