Three American scientists jointly won the Nobel Prize in medicine for their discoveries of how specific proteins regulate all aspects of the body during sleep and wake cycles, the Nobel Prize committee announced Monday.
The Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet awarded Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their contributions in the understanding of the circadian rhythm in multicellular organisms.
The three men expanded the field of research into the circadian rhythm — how the body regulates itself from day to night — by isolating a key gene that controls these functions and identifying certain proteins that are responsible for dictating to the body what functions to carry out at what time of day.
“With exquisite precision, our inner clock adapts our physiology to the dramatically different phases of the day,” the Nobel laureate committee wrote in a statement announcing the latest winners.
“The clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism. Our wellbeing is affected when there is a temporary mismatch between our external environment and this internal biological clock, for example when we travel across several time zones and experience ‘jet lag.’ There are also indications that chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner timekeeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases.”
In 1984, the three men were studying fruit flies to understand how our body’s internal clock functions and they successfully isolated the period gene, which was first discovered as integral to the circadian rhythms a decade earlier. The scientists further discovered that a number of proteins work together in cells that contribute to regulating the functions of the body throughout the day.
Dr. Hall, 72, is originally from New York, and received has degrees from the University of Washington in Seattle and the California Institute of Technology.
Both he and Dr. Rosbash, 73, worked together on their research while faculty members at Brandeis University. Dr. Rosbash continues to be a faculty member at Brandeis. They collaborated with Dr. Young, 68, who was working at Rockefeller University in New York, where he continues to be on the faculty.
“The biological clock is involved in many aspects of our complex physiology. We now know that all multicellular organisms, including humans, utilize a similar mechanism to control circadian rhythms,” the Nobel prize committee wrote in its statement. “A large proportion of our genes are regulated by the biological clock and, consequently, a carefully calibrated circadian rhythm adapts our physiology to the different phases of the day. Since the seminal discoveries by the three laureates, circadian biology has developed into a vast and highly dynamic research field, with implications for our health and wellbeing.”
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