Recognizing winners of the 2013 Nobel Prize in
physiology or medicine
Three American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology members won the 2013 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in October for their work in vesicle trafficking.
James Rothman of Yale University, Randy Schekman at the University of California, Berkeley, and Thomas Südhof at Stanford University share the prize “for their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells,” said the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet in its announcement.
Vesicle trafficking “is the mode by which proteins move from place to place within the cell. This includes the process of internalization, in which receptors at the cell surface move inside the cell, as well as the reverse process, in which proteins, such as hormones, are secreted from cells,” explains Steven Caplan at the University of Nebraska, who studies the process. “Such movement is essential for the normal functioning of every cell, and impaired vesicle trafficking leads to a host of diseases. More than anything, this Nobel Prize is a boon to those of us in the field and acknowledges the importance of understanding fundamental biological questions.”
Schekman, who also recently won the Otto Warburg Medal from the German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, used yeast genetics to identify more than 20 genes that are critical for vesicle trafficking. He showed that these genes could be classified into three categories of vesicle-transport regulation based on location: in the Golgi complex, in the endoplasmic reticulum and at the cell surface.
Rothman used biochemical approaches to establish the function of SNARE proteins. He demonstrated how different combinations of these proteins formed complexes to control cell fusion and properly delivered the cargo inside the vesicles to the right destination.
Südhof (who recently won the Lasker Award in Basic Medical Research along with Genentech’s Richard H. Scheller) became interested in how vesicle fusion machinery was controlled. He worked out the mechanism by which calcium ions trigger release of neurotransmitters and identified key regulatory components in the vesicle fusion machinery, such as complexin and synaptotagmin-1.
“Together, Rothman, Schekman and Südhof have transformed the way we view transport of molecular cargo to specific destinations inside and outside the cell,” said the Nobel Prize press release.
Defects in vesicle trafficking have been linked to conditions such as neurological diseases, diabetes and immunological disorders.
– Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay
Gilbert gets NIH MERIT Award
Susan Gilbert at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute won a Method to Extend Research in Time Award from the National Institutes of Health’s National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council in recognition of her research contributions throughout her career. “Susan is to be congratulated for a very significant and rare achievement in earning an NIH MERIT award,” said Laurie Leshin, a dean at Rensselaer. “It’s a well-earned recognition of the long-standing, extremely high quality of her research. The award provides her the freedom to explore cutting-edge scientific ideas in ways that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. The National Institutes of Health are to be commended for working to enable their researchers to seek paradigm-shifting breakthroughs.” Gilbert’s work focuses on the structure and mechanisms of microtubule-dependent ATPases.
Ellen Fanning, a faculty member at Vanderbilt University since 1995 and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, died in September at the age of 67. Fanning, who headed the molecular biology department at Vanderbilt between 1999 and 2002, studied DNA replication in mammalian cells. A dedicated mentor, she used her HHMI award in 2002 to establish what she called a “Community of Scholars,” which offered hands-on research opportunities to undergraduates. Fanning served on the editorial board of The Journal of Biological Chemistry and was a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.