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The BBC's Robert Allen reports
Greengard will use his share to support women in the sciences
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Monday, 9 October, 2000, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
Brain pioneers share Nobel prize
The three winners worked on brain chemistry
Three scientists whose discoveries shed light on the workings of the brain and nervous system have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Professors Arvid Carlsson, Paul Greengard and Eric Kandel were jointly awarded the prize on Monday.

All three have opened up potential new avenues of treatment for brain conditions such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

The scientists share an award of just under $1m.

Signalling pathways

Professor Greengard, currently working at the Rockefeller University in the US, has devoted more than 40 years working out how nerve cells communicate between each other on a biochemical level.

In the 1970s, he revealed new information about the way the chemical dopamine affects the brain. He managed to trace the signalling pathways used by the chemical.

Professor Greengard's work has applications in the fight against many conditions to which dopamine is key, such as Parkinson's, schizophrenia and Alzheimer's.

Likewise, Dr Arvid Carlsson, Emeritus Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Göteborg, Sweden, has also helped make huge strides forward in helping doctors understand the importance and role of dopamine in the brain - and ways in which drugs can influence the way the brain works.

Parkinson's breakthrough

His discoveries in the field have led to new effective treatments for schizophrenia, depression and Parkinson's.

His studies in the mid-1950s at the University of Lund laid the groundwork for the discovery of dopamine depletion in Parkinson's and subsequent treatment with levadopa, which is still the principal drug used by doctors to delay the disease's devastating advance.

In the late 1960's, Dr Carlsson's group developed the first clinically active inhibitor of serotonin re-uptake (SSRI) for depression, zimelidine.

This research contributed to the development of SSRIs such as Prozac, now one of the world's most popular drugs for the treatment of depressive disorders.

Short-term memory

Professor Eric Kandel, from the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University in the US, has also worked extensively to uncover the hidden processes that drive the human mind.

His discoveries have included the molecular mechanisms which lie under the acquisition of memory, both short and long-term.

In the mid-1970s, Professor Kandel's team discovered the importance of the neurotransmitter called serotonin to the memory process.

Their results showed that serotonin triggered a series of steps in which a chemical reaction strengthened the electrical connections between neurons in the brain for several minutes - the foundation of short-term memory.

Professor Kandel later found genes which appear vital in the conversion of short to long-term memory.

Again, understanding these processes could help doctors one day unravel the reason why memory is lost in conditions such as Alzheimer's, and could even produce memory-enhancing drugs.

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