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Feb. 25, 2003 -- No. 121

Seattle, New York researchers to receive neuroscience prize endowed by UNC scientist

By LESLIE H. LANG
UNC School of Medicine

CHAPEL HILL -- The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has named Drs. Linda Buck and Richard Axel co-recipients of the third annual Perl-UNC Neuroscience Prize.

Buck is a member of the basic sciences division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and affiliate professor at the University of Washington. Axel is University professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Columbia University. Both scientists are Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators.

The prize carries a $10,000 award and is given to recognize a seminal achievement in the field of neuroscience. Previous awardees were Dr. David Julius from the University of California at San Francisco and Dr. Roderick MacKinnon from Rockefeller University.

Dr. Edward R. Perl is Sarah Graham Kenan professor of cell and molecular physiology at the UNC School of Medicine. Perl’s work in pain mechanisms has been highly influential. Thirty years ago, he was the first to prove that a particular class of nerve cells (now called nociceptors) responds exclusively to stimuli that are perceived as painful. His work has had a decisive impact on modern pain research, and these cells are now targets of intensive efforts to find drugs that block their function.

"This year’s Perl Prize is awarded to Drs. Axel and Buck in recognition of their discovery of the family of olfactory receptor proteins. Until their pioneering work, almost nothing was known about how specialized nerve cells in the olfactory epithelium of the nose differentially respond to the myriad odors that humans and animals can distinguish," said Dr. William Snider, director of the UNC Neuroscience Center and head of the selection committee for the prize.

The discovery of a family of approximately 1,000 odorant receptors has made it possible to understand how olfactory receptor neurons respond to odors and how information about odors is conveyed to the brain, Snider said. The discovery has vastly expanded the sub field of neuroscience devoted to understanding the sense of smell.

The award will be presented by Dr. Jeffrey Houpt, dean of the School of Medicine, on May 2. Buck will give a public lecture immediately following the ceremony.

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Note: Contact Snider at (919) 843-8623 or william_snider@med.unc.edu.

School of Medicine contact: Les Lang, (919) 843-9687 or llang@med.unc.edu