Scheller and Südhof identified and isolated key molecular participants, defined fundamental interactions among these elements, and deciphered details that govern and assure rapid neurotransmitter release.
By the 1950s, scientists had determined that cells release neurotransmitters — chemical messengers — that convey signals in the brain. The process begins with an electrical impulse that runs down a nerve cell or neuron. When the signal reaches the tip, calcium enters the cell. In response, the neuron emits the neurotransmitters from balloon-like vesicles. The neurotransmitters then pass the message to the receiving neuron.
Through elegant experimentation starting in the 1980s, Scheller and Südhof identified key proteins and demonstrated the mechanism by which calcium triggers the fusion process, revolutionizing our understanding of how the brain works. Their discoveries have influenced nearly every aspect of neuroscience research and shed light on the complexities of brain disease, information processing, learning, memory, and human behavior.