Nobel Controversy Surfaces

By Ellen Kuwana
Neuroscience for Kids Staff Writer
March 1, 2001

Three neuroscientists, Arvid Carlsson, Paul Greengard and Eric Kandel, were awarded the Nobel Prize in 2000 for their pioneering work on how nerve cells communicate with each other. In their work, these researchers identified the roles of some neurotransmitters and studied the chemical modification of proteins at the synapse. Some of the studies were directed at how memory works, and others concerned neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease. Now, more than 250 neuroscientists have signed a letter of protest to be published later this year in the journal Parkinsonism and Related Disorders. In the letter they criticize the Nobel Committee for overlooking the researcher who discovered the deficit of dopamine in Parkinson's disease.

In 1960, Oleh Hornykiewicz analyzed brains from people who had died of various diseases. He reported that only those people with Parkinson's disease had a decreased level of the neurotransmitter dopamine. He went on to suggest that the symptoms of Parkinson's disease might be relieved by replenishing the dopamine levels in these patients. Successful results from this new treatment were published in 1961. Despite medical advances over the years, dopamine replacement is still the most effective treatment for Parkinson's disease.

The authors of the letter emphasize that they do not want to diminish the research done by the three neuroscientists who were awarded the Nobel Prize. However, Hornykiewicz's research provided a foundation for some of the scientific progress credited to the three scientists who shared the Nobel Prize in 2000. The Nobel committee is limited to choosing up to three recipients and is not permitted to discuss the decision-making process.


"Researcher Overlooked for 2000 Nobel," by Laura Helmuth, Science, 1/26/01.

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