Thanks in part to research performed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded today to Americans Brian Kobilka and Robert Lefkowitz for their work on G-protein-coupled receptors.
G-protein-coupled receptors, or GPCRs, are a large family of proteins embedded in a cell’s membrane that sense molecules outside the cell and activate a cascade of different cellular processes in response. They constitute key components of how cells interact with their environments and are the target of nearly half of today’s pharmaceuticals.
These medicines work by connecting with many of the 800 or so human GPCRs. But to do this well, a drug needs to connect to the protein like a key opens a lock. Improving drugs requires knowing exactly how these proteins work and are structured, which is difficult because the long, slender protein chains are folded in an intricate pattern that threads in and out of the cell’s membrane.
In a study performed at Argonne in 2007, Kobilka, a professor at Stanford University, used intense X-rays produced by the laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source (APS) to make the first discovery of the structure of a human GPCR. This receptor, called the human β2 adrenoreceptor (β2AR), is responsible for a number of different biological responses, including facilitating breathing and dilating the arteries.
Read more on the Argonne National Laboratory website
Image: This is an image of a G-protein-coupled receptor signaling complex whose structure was identified in 2011. The receptor is in magenta while the different G protein subunits are colored green, red and blue. Stanford biochemist Brian Kobilka shared the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work in determining the structure of this activated GPCR using X-rays provided by Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source.