The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1994

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1994 was awarded jointly to Alfred G. Gilman and Martin Rodbell “for their discovery of G-proteins and the role of these proteins in signal transduction in cells.”

Nobelist Born Died Affiliation at the time of the award
Alfred G. Gilman 1 July 1941, New Haven, CT, USA 23 December 2015, Dallas, TX, USA University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, Dallas, TX, USA
Martin Rodbell 1 December 1925, Baltimore, MD, USA 7 December 1998, Chapel Hill, NC, USA National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research Triangle Park, NC, USA

It has been known for some time that cells communicate with each other by means of hormones and other signal substances, which are released from glands, nerves and other tissues. It is only recently that we have begun to understand how the cell handles this information from the outside and converts it into relevant action – i.e. how signals are transduced in cells.

The discoveries of the G-proteins by the Americans Alfred G. Gilman and Martin Rodbell have been of paramount importance in this context, and have opened up a new and rapidly expanding area of knowledge.

G-proteins have been so named because they bind guanosine triphosphate (GTP). Gilman and Rodbell found that G-proteins act as signal transducers, which transmit and modulate signals in cells. G-proteins have the ability to activate different cellular amplifier systems. They receive multiple signals from the exterior, integrate them and thus control fundamental life processes in the cells.

Disturbances in the function of G-proteins – too much or too little of them, or genetically determined alterations in their composition – can lead to disease. The dramatic loss of salt and water in cholera is a direct consequence of the action of cholera toxin on G-proteins. Some hereditary endocrine disorders and tumours are other examples. Furthermore, some of the symptoms of common diseases such as diabetes or alcoholism may depend on altered transduction of signals through G-proteins.

More detailed information at The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1994.


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