UT Southwestern researcher receives $15 million grant from Japan Science and Technology Corp.

DALLAS - April 23, 2002 - UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas researcher Dr. Masashi Yanagisawa has received a five-year, $15 million grant from Japan Science and Technology Corp. to expand his research on receptor genes and the roles they play in the body.

Japan Science and Technology, administered by the Japanese prime minister's office, conducts and promotes basic research, technology transfer and research cooperation in fields including biology, physics, chemistry and electronics. It annually awards Exploratory Research for Advanced Technology (ERATO) grants to four investigators each year.

Yanagisawa, professor of molecular genetics and an investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at UT Southwestern, will continue his research of "orphan" G-protein receptors - those whose function is unknown. He led a team of researchers that discovered a hormone that is an important pathway in the regulation of hunger. During this research, the team also found that mice lacking the hormone orexin developed narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.

"Many receptor genes have been discovered by the Human Genome Project. The largest number are olfactory receptors, but there are probably 300 to 400 designed to sense other internal signals," he said. "More than half of these are 'orphan' receptors, which means they don't have a ligand identified."

A ligand is a molecule that binds to a receptor, designating that gene's function. When bound to ligands, the receptors trigger a G-protein, which then turns on or turns off genes. The orexin ligands and their receptor genes regulate feeding behavior and sleep/wake states.

"This grant will greatly enhance our efforts in the hunt for these orphan receptor ligands," said Yanagisawa.

Because the grant comes from the Japanese government, part of the research must be conducted in that country. Research will be done both on the UT Southwestern campus and in a new lab in Tokyo, supervised by Dr

Contact: Susan Morrison
UT Southwestern Medical Center

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