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US boffins get Nobel for work on cell receptors

'I didn't believe it till I heard five Swedish accents'

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US boffins have bagged the Nobel prize for chemistry for helping to figure out how cells sense their environment.

Robert Lefkowitz of Duke University and Brian Kobilka at Stanford School of Medicine won for their work on G-protein coupled receptors, which snake in and out of cell's membrane and are one of the main methods of communication with the rest of the body.

"I didn't believe it at first, but after I spoke with about five people - they handed the phone around - with really convincing Swedish accents, I started to think it was for real," Kobilka said.

Receptors convey chemical messages from hormones like adrenaline, which originate outside the cells, inside the cells so they can react, increasing blood pressure, affecting pain tolerance, glucose metabolism and virtually all known physiological processes.

Although scientists had known for some time that cell surfaces most have some kind of recipient for hormones, what they could be made of or how they might work was a mystery for most of the 20th century.

Kobilka and his former mentor Lefkowitz isolated eight of the nine subtypes of beta-adrenergic receptors and figured out their amino acid sequences in the early 1980s. The adrenergic receptors are among the most common G-protein coupled receptors, and deal with humans' flight-or-fight response to epinephrine.

In-depth knowledge about receptors helps medical researchers as well, since around 40 per cent of all medicines target specific receptors for treatment. ®

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