2021 Nobel Prize In Medicine Awarded To Scientists Who Discovered Temperature And Touch Receptors

Published 2 years ago

TOPLINE American scientists David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian were awarded the 2021 Nobel Prize in Medicine for their “discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch,” a breakthrough that, according to the Nobel Assembly, identified “critical missing links” in medical science’s understanding of the interaction between our senses and the environment.


In its press release, the Nobel Assembly said that Julius and Patapoutian’s discoveries has sparked other research that led to a rapid increase in “our understanding of how our nervous system senses heat, cold, and mechanical stimuli.”

David Julius used capsaicin, the chemical compound in chili peppers that gives off a burning sensation, to identify a sensor in the nerve endings of skin that reacts to heat.


Patapoutian discovered separate pressure-sensitive sensors in cells that respond to mechanical stimulation in the skin and internal organs.

The Nobel in medicine is the first of six prizes that are set to be announced this month, marking exceptional achievements in the fields of physics, chemistry, literature, peace and economics.


The winners of the 2021 Nobel Prizes will receive a gold medal and 10 million Swedish kronor ($1.14 million). The prize money comes from an endowment left behind by the prize’s creator, Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel, who died in 1895.


Last year the prize was awarded to American researchers Harvey J. Alter and Charles M. Rice and British scientist Michael Houghton for the discovery of the Hepatitis C virus. In 1944, Joseph Erlanger and Herbert Gasser received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering different types of sensory nerve fibers that react to distinct stimuli, like for example, responses to painful and non-painful touch. The Nobel Assembly noted that prior to Julius and Patapoutian’s discoveries, it was fundamentally unknown as to how temperature and mechanical stimuli are converted into electrical impulses in the nervous system.


By Siladitya Ray, Forbes Staff