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NIDCR-funded researchers win Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

October 09, 2021

By Mary Beth Versaci

Two researchers who received funding from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering receptors of temperature and touch, according to an NIDCR news release.

David Julius, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the department of physiology and Morris Herzstein chair in molecular biology and medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, used capsaicin, the component of chili peppers that causes a burning sensation, to recognize a sensor in the skin's nerve endings that reacts to heat.

Ardem Patapoutian, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience at Scripps Research in California, investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland and past member of NIDCR's Board of Scientific Counselors, used pressure-sensitive cells to identify a new class of sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in internal organs and the skin.

Both investigators, independent of each other, also used menthol to discover an additional sensor that responds to cold, opening the door to new classes of thermal and mechanical receptors, according to the release.

They both received NIDCR funding that supported their winning research. NIDCR funded Dr. Julius' work over an eight-year period in support of his exploration of substances that mediate signaling in nociceptive pathways and the genetic analysis of nociceptor function, the release stated. NIDCR, in addition to other National Institutes of Health sources, funded Dr. Patapoutian's work over a 15-year period in support of his research on nociceptive ion channels and somatosensory receptors.

"NIDCR extends a heartfelt congratulations to Drs. Julius and Patapoutian," NIDCR Director Rena D'Souza, D.D.S., Ph.D., said in the release. "We are proud to have supported the foundational work that led to these seminal discoveries."