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Interview by Sarah Goforth
Trained as a cardiologist, Robert Lefkowitz is the first to admit that his 39-year research career has been driven by more than a desire to treat coronary disease. He has always had an unshakeable urge to figure things out. Yet his work on a large class of signaling molecules known as G-protein-coupled receptors, which earned him the 2012 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, has led to drugs for conditions ranging from allergies to schizophrenia to yes, even coronary disease.
The receptors relay signals from hormones and other molecules to the cell’s interior, allowing the cell to respond to changes in the body such as a surge in adrenaline. When Lefkowitz picked up the trail of these receptors in the 1970s, many scientists were unconvinced they even existed. With a growing army of trainees, Lefkowitz showed they did. He eventually isolated three subtypes of what is now known to be the largest and most pervasive family of receptors—there are 1,000 or more in all—and cloned nine receptors in that family. G-protein-coupled receptors play a role in virtually all known physiological processes.