The 2021 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine has been awarded to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian. Here is a congratulatory message from Professor Tominaga.
The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute has decided to award the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch. I would like to sincerely say congratulations on their receiving the award.
A gene for capsaicin receptor TRPV1 was isolated by a group of David Julius in 1997, and it was clarified that TRPV1 is activated by noxious heat stimulus with a temperature over 43oC, getting a lot of attention as the first temperature sensor. Then, eleven so called thermosensitive TRP channels including TRPM8 which is activated by both menthol and cold stimulus were reported. Ardem Patapoutian reported Piezo 1 and Piezo 2 as mechanosensors in 2010. Although mechanisms for detection of physical stimuli made a slow progress without clear molecular entities, discoveries of thermosensitive TRP channels and Piezo channels pushed forward the progress of researches. Because TRPV1 works as a sensor for nociceptive stimuli, this award would lead to not only the progress of research for regulating our sensory systems, but also the development of novel analgesic agents.
I was involved in the cloning and functional characterization in TRPV1 and TRPV2, another heat sensor, as a postdoctoral fellow in the David Julius laboratory in University California at San Francisco from 1996 to 1999. Because there was a fierce competition for the cloning of capsaicin receptor, we felt relieved upon publish the paper in Nature. I remember that I got excited very much when we found that TRPV1 works as heat sensor as well. This experiment was inspired by our experience that we feel hot in mouth upon eating capsicums. We thought that heat stimulus might activate TRPV1, and it turned out to be the case. It is known that we feel pain upon exposure to high temperaturse over 43oC, and indeed TRPV1 was found to work as a sensor for temperatures causing pain in our body.
Another Nobel Laureate Ardem Patapoutian is also a 20 years friend of mine and we did some collaboration, which made me happier. My lab also published several papers about Piezo channels. I really hope that their receiving the Nobel Prize would lead to the further progress of researches regarding thermosensation and mechanosensation in the future.
The National Institute for Physiological Sciences, Division of Cell Signaling
Exploratory Research Center on Life and Living Systems, Thermal Biology Group