CHAPEL HILL - A California researcher became the first winner of an annual national prize endowed by a distinguished scientist at the University of North Carolina. The prize is for an outstanding scientific contribution to the field of neuroscience.
The $10,000 Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize, announced last week, goes to David Julius, PhD, professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.
Julius discovered the nerve cell molecule that mediates responses to capsaicin, the active ingredient in hot peppers. The capsaicin receptor, VR1, is also responsible for the transmission of noxious heat sensations.
That discovery four years ago, and Julius' subsequent studies, build on the pioneering research of neurophysiologist Edward R. Perl, M.D., Sarah Graham Kenan Professor of Cell and Molecular Physiology at UNC-CH School of Medicine. Perl's work in pain mechanisms has been highly influential. Thirty years ago, he was the first to prove that a particular class of nerve cells (now called nociceptors) respond exclusively to stimuli that we perceive as painful. His work has had a decisive impact on modern pain research and these cells are now targets of intensive efforts to find drugs that block their function.
"Although Ed showed that a class of sensory neurons respond exclusively to painful stimuli, no molecules had been identified that provide the basis for how those neurons were able to do that," said William Snider, MD, director of the Neuroscience Center at UNC and head of the selection committee for the Prize.
"And people had known that capsaicin applied to sensory neurons causes them to be electrically active. Yet attempts to identify, clone or purify a receptor for this ingredient had failed. David Julius, using an ingenious assay system and sophisticated molecular techniques, was able to clone the gene encoding this receptor. Remarkably, it then turned out that the receptor also
Contact: Leslie H. Lang
University of North Carolina School of Medicine