Thomas C. Südhof: 2013 - Physiology, Medicine

Thomas Südhof, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Medicine, has decisively improved our understanding of vital cell processes. His work on the vesicle transport system is of fundamental significance.

Thomas C. Südhof
Thomas C. Südhof

Year & Category

2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (jointly with the Americans James E. Rothman and Randy W. Schekman)

Prize motivation

“For their discoveries of machinery regulating vesicle traffic, a major transport system in our cells”

At the time of the award he worked at

Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

About his research

Vesicles are tiny bubbles that enable cells in the human body to exchange substances and ultimately therefore also to communicate. Thomas Südhof’s co-laureate Randy Schekman discovered a group of genes that are crucial for the transport of vesicles. James E. Rothman deciphered how transport vesicles succeed in fusing with cell membranes. But how do these processes occur at precisely the right time? Thomas Südhof found out how nerve cells control the release of transport vesicles: calcium ions serve as additional door openers when the vesicle docks onto the cell membrane. Only when they are released can the transport of the vesicle’s cargo take place. The transport mechanism discovered by Südhof, Rothman and Schekman constitutes an important foundation for addressing deficiencies in these processes – and therefore a possible means of combating diseases such as diabetes, tetanus and forms of paralysis.

The work continues

This groundbreaking research work is only one part of Thomas Südhof’s long research career. In 1982 he completed a doctorate on chemical messengers in the adrenal gland at the University of Göttingen. Then, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, he improved our understanding of lipometabolism (supervised by Michael S. Brown and Joseph L. Goldstein, winners of the 1985 Nobel Prize in Medicine). And Thomas Südhof is steadfastly continuing research in his laboratory at Stanford University: among other things, he would like to uncover the molecular foundations of Alzheimer’s disease and autism.