The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2021 was awarded jointly to David Julius and Ardem Patapoutian “for their discoveries of receptors for temperature and touch”. Nonetheless, it is important to note that Hungarian researchers and the University of Szeged have made outstanding contributions to the field of sensory pharmacology, said Gábor Jancsó, professor at the University of Szeged.
The groundbreaking discoveries of the two American scientists led to a rapid increase in our understanding of how our nervous system senses heat, cold, and mechanical stimuli. David Julius utilised capsaicin, a chemical compound that was first isolated from chilli peppers, to identify a sensor in the skin’s nerve endings that responds to heat, writes the official website of the Nobel Prize.
Ardem Patapoutian and his team used pressure-sensitive cells to identify molecules that became activated by mechanical forces. They identified cells that emitted an electrical signal when prodded, and this led to the discovery of a novel class of sensors that respond to mechanical stimuli in the skin and internal organs.
The study of pain sensation and neurogenic inflammation has a long history at the Institute of Physiology of the University of Szeged, Gábor Jancsó told Origo. His father, Miklós Jancsó, was a notable pharmacologist who made essential observations in the 1940s and ’50s concerning the function and pharmacology of sensory nerve endings involved in transmitting heat and pain. He mainly studied the mechanisms of action of chemotherapeutic agents and wanted to find substances that cause an inflammatory reaction.
Miklós Jancsó discovered that, besides histamine, many chemical irritants could elicit the phenomenon of vascular labelling by producing cutaneous inflammation, including capsaicin.
His experiments showed that the capsaicin-induced inflammatory response could be inhibited by prior repeated administrations of the drug. This procedure is called capsaicin desensitisation.
Miklós Jancsó also published the first detailed account about the thermoregulatory effects of capsaicin.
However, most of these fundamental findings were published only after his death, by his wife, Aranka Jancsó-Gábor, and János Szolcsányi. Later, Gábor Jancsó continued his father’s research on sensory nerve endings. “We already knew that capsaicin somehow blocks sensory receptors that play a role in pain perception and heat perception, and that the same neurons also play a fundamental role in a certain inflammatory response”, but we had to identify the mechanism behind this effect, he explained.
Since the 1970s, the publications of Gábor Jancsó have been published in numerous prestigious journals, including Nature.
Jancsó’s article titled Pharmacologically induced selective degeneration of chemosensitive primary sensory neurones not only has a high impact factor but is also mentioned in the latest scientific background material published by the Nobel Committee.