Signal transduction in the nervous system
The 2000 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was jointly awarded nerve signalling. Carlsson, Greengard and Kandel separately made important discoveries about slow synaptic transmission, one of the methods that the billions of nerve cells in our brains use to communicate with each other.
In the 1950s, Carlsson used a variety of animal models, including mice and rats, to identify dopamine as an important neurotransmitter. He showed that dopamine was involved in the nerve signals responsible for movement, and that dopamine dysfunction could result in serious disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Carlsson has since worked on the development of drugs that influence neurotransmitters to treat Parkinson’s, depression and psychosis.
In the 1960s, Paul Greengard used animal models to investigate the mechanism of action of dopamine and other neurotransmitters. He found that during slow synaptic transmission, neurotransmitters bind to receptors in the surface of nerve cells, causing a cascade of chemical reactions that change the function of important proteins, sending a message from one nerve cell to another. These findings have increased our understanding of certain drugs that take effect by influencing the communication between nerve cells.
From the 1960s onwards, Eric Kandel primarily used sea slugs to study the role of synaptic transmission in learning and memory. Using this simple organism Kandel made discoveries that proved applicable to complex mammalian nervous systems. He found that the basis for learning and memory lay in the synapse, with weak stimuli leading to chemical changes in synaptic proteins that form short term memories. Stronger stimuli could affect the synthesis of new proteins and change the shape and function of synapses, resulting in long term memories. Kandel’s work marks an important point on our road to understanding how memories are made, and has informed many investigations into memory-improving treatments for dementia sufferers.