Who won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine?
The 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was jointly awarded to Dr. Ardem Patapoutian and Dr. David Julius for their discoveries of ion channels essential for the sensation of touch and temperature, respectively.
Our team at BioRender was so excited to learn about these two Nobel Prize-winning discoveries and wanted to celebrate by creating a comprehensive infographic for each one! Check out the free, fully-editable infographics below. A special thank you to Dr. Ardem Patapoutian and his lab for collaborating with us on their infographic!
Dr. Ardem Patapoutian’s discovery of mechanosensitive PIEZO channels
Essential for the Sensation of Touch: PIEZO Channels
Who is Dr. Ardem Patapoutian?
Dr. Ardem Patapoutian, PhD, is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator of Scripps Research. He received the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (jointly).
His research focuses on the mechanisms underlying somatosensation - specifically ion channels that are responsible for the ability to sense heat and mechanical stress.
Molecular Structures of PIEZO Channels
Both PIEZO1 and PIEZO2 have a three-bladed, propeller-like structure. They both are composed of three identical protein subunits that come together to form the central membrane-spanning pore.
PIEZO Channels: How Do They Allow Mechanosensation?
Both PIEZO1 and PIEZO2 are cation channels activated by mechanical force. Based on protein structure, it was predicted that the 'blades' of the PIEZO channels undergo a lever-like flattening motion upon application of mechanical stress. This opens up their central pore, allowing cations to enter the cell.
Relevance of PIEZO Channels in Physiology and Medicine
Since their discovery, PIEZO1 and PIEZO2 have been proven to be critical mechanosensors throughout the human body, they allow many important biological functions occur, from breathing to immune cell regulation.
• PIEZO2 acts as an airway stretch sensor in respiratory tissue and is critical for normal breathing.
• Both PIEZO1 and PIEZO2 act as baroreceptors and are essential in blood pressure regulation.
• PIEZO1 is an important sensor of shear stress in vasculature and required for embryonic vascular development.
• PIEZO2 is a sensor for stretch in the bladder urothelium and innervating sensory neurons.
• Polymorphisms and mutations in PIEZO1 have been shown to protect against symptoms of malaria.
• PIEZO1 regulates macrophage phagocytic activity and thereby facilitates erythrocyte turnover.
Dr. David Julius’ discovery of the
temperature-sensitive TRP ion channels
How do we perceive temperature?
Who is Dr. David Julius?
David Julius, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Physiology at UC San Francisco, received the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (jointly). His work focused on how our bodies sense heat, cold, and chemical irritants, leading to new insights about the fundamental nature of pain and new targets for pain therapy.
Why are TRP ion channels important?
In our daily lives, we perceive millions of sensations that are processed by molecular receptors that form part of intricate signaling pathways. For instance, thanks to transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channels we have the ability to sense heat and cold which is crucial for survival. Dr. Julius has extensively studied this family of receptors using distinctive molecules from the natural world – including toxins from tarantulas, coral snakes, and capsaicin, the molecule that produces the “heat” in chili peppers – to understand how signals responsible for temperature and pain sensation are transmitted to our brain.
Nociception: How do we sense noxious stimuli?
Nociception is the process whereby our somatosensory system detects noxious mechanical, thermal, or chemical stimuli that give rise to pain sensations. Sensitization of a specialized group of neurons in the skin when injury or inflammation occurs triggers an activation of TRP ion channels. Once activated, these potentiate the transmission of signals to secondary neurons in the spinal cord and then to the brain, eliciting perception of acute discomfort or pain.
For instance, when skin is exposed to heat, TRVP1 channels in free nerve endings are activated causing the heat signal to travel through the nerves into the ascending spinal pathway. The brain receives the signal and generates an appropriate response.
What are the applications?
- TRP channels are potential targets for a new generation of painkillers / analgesic drugs.
- Synthetic design of unique sensory systems could be used as biosensors in industrial applications.
- Potential treatment for heat/cold hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity disorders.
We’ve also broken the infographics up into these bite-sized templates so you can quickly and easily customize them with your science!
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[Essential for the Sensation of Touch: PIEZO Channels]
1. ®© The Nobel Foundation
2. “Lab Members.” The Patapoutian Lab, https://patapoutianlab.org/people
3. Advanced information. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2021. Tue. 2 Nov 2021. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2021/advanced-information/>
4. Piezo1 and Piezo2 are essential components of distinct mechanically activated cation channels (2010) PMID: 20813920
5. Structure-based membrane dome mechanism for Piezo mechanosensitivity (2017), PMID: 29231809
6. Structure and mechanogating of the mammalian tactile channel PIEZO2 (2019), PMID: 31435011
7. Piezo2 senses airway stretch and mediates lung inflation-induced apnoea (2017) PMID: 28002412
8. PIEZOs mediate neuronal sensing of blood pressure and the baroreceptor reflex (2018) PMID: 30361375
9. Piezo1 integration of vascular architecture with physiological force (2014), PMID: 25119035
10. Piezo1, a mechanically activated ion channel, is required for vascular development in mice (2014), PMID: 24958852
11. PIEZO2 in sensory neurons and urothelial cells coordinates urination (2020), PMID: 33057202
12. Common PIEZO1 Allele in African Populations Causes RBC Dehydration and Attenuates Plasmodium Infection (2018), PMID: 29576450
13. A common polymorphism in the mechanosensitive ion channel PIEZO1 is associated with protection from severe malaria in humans (2020), PMID: 32265284
14. Common PIEZO1 Allele in African Populations Causes RBC Dehydration and Attenuates Plasmodium Infection (2018), PMID: 29576450
15. A role of PIEZO1 in iron metabolism in mice and humans (2021) PMID: 33571427Essential for the Sensation of Touch: PIEZO Channels
[How do we perceive temperature?]
3. Julius, D., 2013. TRP Channels and Pain. Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology 29, 355–384.. doi:10.1146/annurev-cellbio-101011-155833