The 2012 Nobel Prize in chemistry has been awarded to two American researchers: Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka, who’ve uncovered the inner-workings of a specific protein that has been found to be responsible for co-ordinating a massive amount of sensory function within our bodies.
The G-coupled Protein Receptors (GCPRs) are a class of molecule that cross cell membranes: they are diverse proteins that exist on the surface of cells. Unlocking the understanding of how they work has already been crucial in mapping the complexity of signalling between cells. Sven Lidid of the Nobel Committee articulated the importance of the work, startling assembled reporters by explaining the rush of adrenaline received when one experiences fear is just one of many pathways communicating a signal across billions of other cells through impermeable cell membranes.
Research revealed that when a hormone or another catalysing molecule binds to the receptor, this causes a reaction and the GCPRs alert the inside of the cell to a change on the outside. This causes a change in shape, allowing the molecules on the inside of the cell to bind to the receptor, which elicits prodigious intracellular reactions.
The extensive nature of GCPRs means that the majority of pharmaceuticals produced in today’s market for a range of conditions, from Parkinson’s disease to the common cold, could rely on their activity. Identification of compounds that desensitise GCPRs has lead to an increased understanding of how our bodies can adapt and develop tolerance to certain medication. Because they are fundamental to the regulation of many physiological processes, they are a major drug target and crucial to the pharmaceutical industry. It has already been speculated the discovery will lead to leaping advances in drug design, casting hope in areas where current medication has succumb to futility.