From left to right above: Jeremy Nathans, M.D., Ph.D., King-Wai Yau, Ph.D.
Jeremy Nathans, M.D., Ph.D.
Jeremy Nathans was recognized for his wide-ranging discoveries in basic and clinical vision science. Nathans isolated the genes coding for the human visual pigments, work that led to his elucidation of the molecular basis of inherited variation in human color vision. Nathans defined the biochemical basis of two early-onset heritable forms of macular degeneration. He found that Stargardt disease results from mutations in a photoreceptor-specific transporter (ABCA4) that recycles all-trans retinal; and, with King-Wai Yau, he discovered that vitelliform macular dystrophy is caused by mutations in a previously unknown family of anion channels. Nathans showed that the most common form of autosomal dominant retinitis pigmentosa is caused by rhodopsin gene mutations that impair protein stability or transport. Most recently, Nathans unified the retinal vascular disorders Norrie disease and familial exudative vitreoretinopathy by showing that they arise from inherited defects in a signaling system that controls angiogenesis and vascular-barrier integrity.
King-Wai Yau, Ph.D.
King-Wai Yau was recognized for his discoveries on how vision begins. He developed with Denis Baylor and Trevor Lamb the suction-pipette recording method and performed classic studies of retinal rod and cone light responses, including detecting the rod’s response to a single photon. He made major contributions to solving the longstanding puzzle regarding their phototransduction mechanism, establishing that cGMP mediates photoexcitation and Ca2+ mediates photo-adaptation down to quantitative detail, with complex interactions between them. His work provided the foundation for understanding many hereditary blinding diseases affecting these mechanisms. Yau also found that the intrinsically-photosensitive retinal ganglion cells, which are photoreceptors mediating largely non-image-forming vision such as photoentrainment of circadian rhythm and pupillary light reflex, have a seemingly evolutionarily ancient phototransduction mechanism. Yau’s discoveries in vision research, together with parallel work on olfactory transduction in the past 25 years, have provided deep insights into sensory neurobiology, evolution, and G-protein-coupled-receptor signaling.