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Nobelist Carlsson To Give Director's Lecture, Apr. 3

When the Nobel committee awarded the 2000 Nobel Prize in Medicine to Arvid Carlsson and his fellow neuroscientists Paul Greengard and Eric Kandel, it was a long-awaited recognition of the fundamental contributions Carlsson has made to advance understanding of synaptic transmission. On Wednesday, Apr. 3, at 3 p.m. in Masur Auditorium in Bldg. 10, Carlsson will return to NIH, where he once spent a sabbatical leave, to give the Director's Lecture entitled, "A Paradigm Shift in Brain Research." He will discuss his work and the impact it has had in the research world and in the area of treatments for Parkinson's disease, depression and schizophrenia.

Dr. Arvid Carlsson

NINDS' recent 50-year celebration recognized Carlsson's contributions to neuroscience, beginning with his early time at NIH. He was associate professor of pharmacology at the University of Lund in Sweden in 1955 when he took a 6-month sabbatical to work in Bernard Brodie's laboratory at NIH. At the time, Brodie and his researchers were investigating an unusual compound called reserpine, an herbal remedy that had been used in India for centuries, and which studies at the time had shown to lower blood pressure and relieve psychotic symptoms.

In addition, Brodie's researchers were looking at the hallucinogen LSD, because its effects appeared to mimic psychoses and its molecular structure was similar to that of serotonin — a chemical known to be in the brain. Before Carlsson arrived, Brodie and his team had reported that reserpine blocked the action of LSD in the brain by lowering levels of serotonin. At NIH, Carlsson studied the release of serotonin in blood platelets exposed to reserpine.

Carlsson stepped into an area of research that was ripe with the potential for discoveries. The presence of chemical transmission in the brain wasn't yet understood; most neuroscientists still thought that neurons communicated by electrical signals. But the actions in the brain of serotonin, and other compounds known as catecholamines, suggested that another mechanism had to be involved.

When he returned to Sweden, Carlsson assembled a research team and began intensive study of serotonin and another brain chemical, dopamine. His work led to the identification of serotonin as a neurotransmitter, and the introduction of the concept of chemical neurotransmission. His discoveries paved the way for a paradigm shift in understanding synaptic transmission as being both electrical (via action potentials) and chemical (via neurotransmitters).

Carlsson didn't confine the scope of his work to basic research. He and his colleagues in Sweden used the principles of chemical neurotransmission to narrow the search for compounds that could block the re-uptake of neurotransmitters in the synapse. Carlsson focused first on dopamine, which he proposed as a neurotransmitter involved in the control of motor functions. Applications of this theory resulted in development of levodopa — the first drug to treat Parkinson's disease symptoms.

Turning to serotonin, Carlsson introduced the first selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, zimelidine, which led to the later development of such drugs as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), medications that revolutionized the treatment of depression and de-stigmatized mental illness.

Carlsson continues to work on the biochemistry of Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia through his research firm, Carlsson Research Inc. He is also a professor emeritus in pharmacology at the University of Göteborg.

The lecture is part of the NIH Director's Wednesday Afternoon Lecture series. For information and reasonable accommodation, contact Hilda Madine, 594-5595.

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