Nobel Prize in Medicine Awarded to Circadian Rhythm Researchers

Megan Brooks

October 02, 2017

For their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling circadian rhythm, three US scientists have been awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael W. Young. (REX/Shutterstock)

Jeffrey C. Hall, PhD, Michael Rosbash, PhD, and Michael W. Young, PhD, were able to "peek inside our biological clock and elucidate its inner workings. Their discoveries explain how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm so that it is synchronized with the Earth's revolutions," according to a press statement from the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinksa Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Working with fruit flies, the Nobel laureates isolated the period gene, which controls normal daily biological rhythm. They demonstrated that this gene encodes a protein called PER, which accumulates in the cell during the night and degrades during the day. "Thus, PER protein levels oscillate over a 24-hour cycle, in synchrony with the circadian rhythm," the organization explains.

The scientists subsequently identified additional protein components of this machinery, exposing the mechanism governing the self-sustaining clockwork inside the cell. "We now recognize that biological clocks function by the same principles in cells of other multicellular organisms, including humans," the organization said.

"With exquisite precision, our inner clock adapts our physiology to the dramatically different phases of the day. The clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism," they note.

"The paradigm-shifting discoveries by the laureates established key mechanistic principles for the biological clock," the Nobel organization said. "Since the seminal discoveries by the three laureates, circadian biology has developed into a vast and highly dynamic research field, with implications for our health and wellbeing."

Dr Hall received his doctoral degree in 1971 at the University of Washington in Seattle and was a postdoctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena from 1971 to 1973. He joined the faculty at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, in 1974. In 2002, he became associated with University of Maine.

Dr Rosbash received his doctoral degree in 1970 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. During the following 3 years, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Since 1974, he has been on faculty at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Dr Young received his doctoral degree at the University of Texas in Austin in 1975. Between 1975 and 1977, he was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in Palo Alto. From 1978, he has been on faculty at the Rockefeller University in New York City.

The winners will share a prize of 9 million Swedish crowns ($1.1 million).

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