Nobel prize goes to research on cell signals

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The Independent Online
TWO American researchers have won this year's Nobel prize in medicine for discovering an internal message system in cells which plays a key role in the progress of diseases such as diabetes and cholera, writes Tom Wilkie.

Alfred G Gilman, 53, and Martin Rodbell, 68, will share the prize of 7 million Swedish kronor (about pounds 606,000) for identifying biochemicals known as 'G-proteins' which play a vital role in letting cells react to signals from other cells, according to the citation from the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm.

The dramatic loss of salt and water in cholera is a direct consequence of toxins produced by the cholera bacteria acting on the G-proteins within cells lining the digestive system. The toxin locks a G-protein in an active form, preventing the cell from controlling loss of salt and water.

Body cells communicate by means of hormones and other chemical messengers. The citation says the discovery of the G-proteins 'has been of paramount importance' in understanding what happens once the signal reaches its target.

Professor Gilman works at the University of Texas and Professor Rodbell at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina.