David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian have won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work “for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.” Here is a summary of Professor Julius’ contribution from the BBC:
Prof David Julius’s breakthrough, at the University of California, San Francisco, came from investigating the burning pain we feel from eating a hot chilli pepper. He experimented with the source of a chilli’s heat – the chemical capsaicin. He discovered the specific type of receptor (a part of our cells that detects the world around them) that responded to capsaicin. Further tests showed the receptor was responding to heat and kicked in at “painful” temperatures. This is what happens, for example, if you burn your hand on a cup of coffee. The discovery led to a flurry of other temperature-sensors being discovered. Prof Julius and Prof Ardem Patapoutian found one that could detect cold.
And a summary of Professor Patapoutian’s contributions.
Meanwhile, Prof Patapoutian, working at the Scripps Research institute, was also poking cells in a dish. Those experiments led to the discovery of a different type of receptor that was activated in response to mechanical force or touch. When you walk along a beach and feel the sand under your feet – it is these receptors that are sending signals to the brain. These touch and temperature sensors have since been shown to have a wide role in the body and in some diseases. The first heat sensor (called TRPV1) is also involved in chronic pain and how our body regulates its core temperature. The touch receptor (PIEZ02) has multiple roles, from urinating to blood pressure.
Originally posted at Healthcare Economist.
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