Vesicle transport gets Nobel Prize for Medicine.
The work of three scientists, Randy W. Schekman, Thomas C. Südhof and James E. Rothman, gave us insight into the role of vesicles and vesicular transport in health and disease.
Vesicles are tiny sac-like bodies that enclose and transport molecules within a cell or export out of the cell. For example, the hormone insulin, important in diabetes, remains stored in vesicles within the cells where it is produced, so that it can be secreted out of the cells when blood sugar levels rises.
Today Karolinska Institute announced that these three scientists are the winners of 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Vesicles allow cells to store specific molecules in high concentration, so that these molecules can be used upon demand. Specialized cells called beta cells in the pancreas produce insulin. Once insulin is synthesized and folded properly, it is ready to be exported outside. If the cell has to export each of these millions of molecules individually, it would be a very inefficient process. Therefore the cells trap them in vesicles and when the cell received appropriate signals, these vesicles move to the cell membrane, fuse with the membrane and throw the contents outside. They reach blood stream and get circulated all over the body. A similar process is used by neurotransmitters in the neuronal cells, but in this case, the vesicle content is secreted into the synapse.
Vesicles are also important in the transfer of molecules from one organelle to another within the cells. Vesicles are essential in the transport of post-translationally modified proteins from the endoplasmic reticulum to the golgi bodies. Vesicles are like cargos.
The three Nobel Laureates have discovered a fundamental process in cell physiology. These discoveries have had a major impact on our understanding of how vesicles are delivered with timing and precision within and outside the cell. Vesicle transport and fusion operate, with the same general principles, in organisms as different as yeast and man. The system is critical for a variety of physiological processes in which vesicle fusion must be controlled, ranging from signaling in the brain to release of hormones and immune cytokines. Defective vesicle transport occurs in a variety of diseases including a number of neurological and immunological disorders, as well as in diabetes. Without this wonderfully precise organization, the cell would lapse into chaos.