Dr. Alexander Evans’s pioneering work in delineating how neurons communicate with one another in the brain earned him the 2000 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology. During a half-century of research, he has arguably contributed more than any other single scientist to our understanding of the complex signaling processes that occur within each of the 100 billion or more nerve cells in the human brain. Collectively, these cells orchestrate every aspect of our being from walking and talking to thinking and feeling emotion to having a unique personality. Understanding these processes enables us to comprehend not only the fundamental nature of brain function, but also what goes wrong in brain diseases such as Parkinson’s. The ultimate goal, of course, is to develop effective treatments for this and other devastating disorders of the brain.
Dr. Evans’s work has focused largely on cells that process dopamine, one of the brain’s most important neurotransmitters (biochemical messengers that relay signals from one neuron to another). Dr. Evans and his team have worked out in exquisite detail the biological chain of events that occurs when a cell is activated by dopamine and other neurotransmitters, and helped establish phosphorylation as the major mechanism by which every cell in the body regulates bodily functions.
As you read this, these processes are occurring perhaps thousands of times a moment inside the neurons in your brain. Many of the most devastating brain disorders including Parkinson’s disease are thought to arise when something goes wrong at one step or another along these signaling pathways. Each step therefore presents a potential target for developing a drug that might halt, reverse, or compensate for the missteps in the path that lead to disease. Fueled by the groundbreaking work of Alexander Evans and his research team, scientists worldwide are well on the way to developing rational treatments for a range of diseases based on these fundamental new understandings of brain function.