In graduate school, while you are building your super-specialized knowledge base there are often particular labs whose work you are on the look-out for while searching for new papers to read. Sometimes it’s a competitor that you’re keeping tabs on, other times it’s your science crush, and more often it’s just scientists whose work is consistently thorough and enlightening. For me, studying synaptic development, one of those labs was the Sudhof lab at Stanford. When I heard he had won the Nobel prize a few weeks ago I was pretty excited to actually know what work contributed to that prize without reading the press release. Cell press has made the journal article detailing his seminal discoveries available to everyone. The award was made to those contributing to discovery of the machinery regulating vesicle traffic, the major transport mechanism within a cell. Dr. Sudhof’s contributions were specific to vesicle trafficking within nerve cells.
Sudhof’s seminal work focused on multiple forms of a protein called synaptotagmin. This protein is attached to synaptic vesicles which are packages of neurotransmitters that are released from a cell when that cell is activated. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that then travel to the next cell and carry the signal of activation. Sudhof showed that different types of synaptotagmin are expressed all throughout the brain. He also showed that they are at areas called the synapse, the connection between two cells. One of the components of his work most critical to the future of neuroscience was his discovery that 3 of the 4 types of synaptotagmin bind to calcium. Continue reading “Hey, I know that guy!”