Reference numberEC/1994/45
TitleNeher, Erwin: certificate of election to the Royal Society
DescriptionCertificate of Candidate for Election to Foreign Membership. Citation typed on separate piece of paper, then pasted onto certificate
CitationErwin Neher has, in collaboration with Professor Bert Sakmann opened up a wide new field in cellular and membrane biology. In 1991, Neher and Sakmann received a Nobel Prize for their invention and experimental application of the so-called "parch-clamp" technique. This techniique, which enables one to make visible, and record directly the opening and closure of single ion channels in cell membranes, had made a tremendous impact and is now being used im many leading laboratories internationally. It imporved the resolution of measurement of ionic membrane currents by several orders of magnitude and so made it possible to demonstrate the existence and explore the functional properties of elememtary membrane channels in living cells. Neher and Sakmann developed and used this method in 1976 to record the minute elementary current pulses flowing through the skeletal muscle membrane when it is activated by the neuromuscular transmitter acetylcholine and its analogues. This work was the beginning of a new development in the study of cell membranes, and gradually, with the help of further technical refinements and personal advice by its originators, was taken up in a very large number of laboratories all over the world. This is well illustrated by a quotation from a review of recent advances in renal physiology (Palmer, L.G., Patch-clamp technique in renal physiology. American Journal of Physiology, 250: F379-385, 1986): "the patch-clamp technique [of Neher and Sakmann] has revolutionised electrophysiology. With it, a new level of detail in the study of many ion channels, as well as the existence of many new types of channels, have been revealed. In a more general sense, the patch-clamp approach allows the function of a single protein molecule to be observed while the molecule is in its native environment in the cell, a feat that to my knowledge is unprecedented in biology". More recently, Erwin Neher has used a new version of his technique to study the mechanism of exocytosis which occurs during cellular secretion. This is a process whereby intracellular vesicles fuse with the surface membrane and open up to the external medium, thus discharging their secretory contents. A modification of the patch-clamp technique enables Neher to measure the elementary step-wise increases of membrane capacity which occur when a vesicular membrane is added to the cell surface. In this way, Professor Neher once more succeeded in demonstrating the occurrence of an important cellular event which had proviously benn the subject of conjecture.
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