In Memoriam: Nobel Laureate Arvid Carlsson, a Pioneer in Parkinson’s Treatment

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Photo: Johan Wingborg/University of Gothenburg

We regret to announce the loss of Dana Alliance member Arvid Carlsson, M.D., Ph.D., who passed away last Friday at 95 years old. Carlsson laid the groundwork for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease by discovering dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in motor function. In 2000, this research won him the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with fellow Dana Alliance members Eric R. Kandel, M.D., and Paul Greengard, Ph.D., “for their discoveries concerning signal transduction in the nervous system.”

In 2001, Dana Alliance member John H. Byrne, Ph.D., wrote a Dana Foundation Cerebrum article to commemorate the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He detailed Carlsson’s journey to his Nobel Prize winning research on dopamine:

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From the Archives: How Neuroscience Captured the 21st Century

When researchers Arvid Carlsson, Paul Greengard, and Eric Kandel shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000, we commissioned memory researcher John H. Byrne to write an essay on what their achievements meant to the field. In his 2001 essay, “How Neuroscience Captured the Twenty-First Century’s First Nobel Prize,” Byrne starts with a good chunk of Kandel’s acceptance speech; gives a cogent review of each scientist’s separate path and how their discoveries eventually entwined; describes how this changed the field; and considers what it might mean for the future. As you might suspect, it’s a long essay, but full of gems.

Whether overdue or just in the nick of time (as the Decade of the Brain closes), this Nobel Prize celebrates an achievement different in kind from previous observation, speculation, and investigation of the brain. For the first time, an unambiguously mental phenomenon—memory—has been explained in wholly material, mechanical terms. The hypothesis of a separate, nonmaterial, otherworldly realm has become superfluous. A banquet is not the place to spin out these disturbing implications, but Kandel does acknowledge them, for those who will hear, by returning to where his story began—“Know thyself.”

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