Pain researchers win Nobel Prize for Medicine


By Michael Woodhead

5 Oct 2021

David Julius

The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded jointly to US- researchers Professor David Julius and Professor Ardem Patapoutian for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch.

According to the Nobel Prize Committee, Professor Julius, now working at University of California, San Francisco (UCFS), used capsaicin to identify and characterise the TRPV1 receptor that detects capsaicin

His lab found that TRPV1 was a thermoception receptor and also characterised related receptors such as TRPM8 (CMR1) and TRPA1, that detect sensations such as cold.

Meanwhile, working at working at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California, Professor Patapoutian used pressure-sensitive cells to discover a novel class of molecular channel known as PIEZO that responds to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs.

Ardem Patapoutian

Professor Patapoutian and his collaborators inactivated genes until they identified the single one that, when disabled, made the cells insensitive. PIEZO1 and PIEZO2 channels have since been shown to regulate additional important physiological processes including blood pressure, respiration and urinary bladder control.

“The groundbreaking discoveries of the TRPV1, TRPM8 and Piezo channels by this year’s Nobel Prize laureates have allowed us to understand how heat, cold and mechanical force can initiate the nerve impulses that allow us to perceive and adapt to the world around us,” the Committee said.

“The TRP channels are central for our ability to perceive temperature. The Piezo2 channel endows us with the sense of touch and the ability to feel the position and movement of our body parts.

“TRP and Piezo channels also contribute to numerous additional physiological functions that depend on sensing temperature or mechanical stimuli. Intensive ongoing research originating from this year’s Nobel Prize awarded discoveries focusses on elucidating their functions in a variety of physiological processes. This knowledge is being used to develop treatments for a wide range of disease conditions, including chronic pain.”

The winners were reported to have been taken by surprise by the prestigious award, which comes with a gold medal and $1.6 million.

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