Prestigious KYOTO prize to Tony Pawson

On June 20, 2008 Inamori Foundation President Kazuo Inamori is pleased to announce the laureates for the 2008 Kyoto Prize. These international awards are presented to people who have contributed greatly to the progress of science, the advancement of civilization, and the enrichment and elevation of the human spirit. Together with the computer scientist Dr. Richard Karp and the philosopher Dr. Charles Taylor this prestigious prize is awarded to the molecular biologist Dr. Anthony J. Pawson.

Extract from the Inamori Foundation's press release:

"Proposing and Proving the Concept of Adapter Molecules in the Signal Transduction"

Dr. Anthony James Pawson proposed and proved the concept that the unique adapter structure exists in signaling proteins, and that the binding of adapters to specific phosphotyrosine-containing domains induces cascades of intracellular signaling that controls cellular growth and differentiation. This concept has established one of the basic paradigms of signal transduction and significantly contributed to the subsequent development in life sciences. Dr. Pawson discovered a new mechanism of intracellular signal transduction, revealing an important molecular infrastructure that controls cellular growth and differentiation. In the late 1970s, the autophosphorylation of oncogene products and growth factor receptors was found at specific tyrosine residues, but the molecular mechanism of signal transduction beyond tyrosine phosphorylation remained unknown. Dr. Pawson demonstrated that intracellular signaling proteins carry a domain with a unique modular structure, which he termed Src homology 2 (SH2), and that this domain recognizes and binds the phosphotyrosine and the flanking amino acids of target molecules to induce cascades of intracellular signaling that facilitates cellular growth and differentiation.

Based on his finding that not only the catalytic domains (tyrosine kinases) but also the flanking domains in oncogene products are necessary for the transformation (i.e., cancer-like behavior) of cells, Dr. Pawson discovered that oncogene products and signaling proteins share a common sequence consisting of approximately 100 amino acid residues, which he termed SH2, and that the SH2 domain takes part in the interaction between tyrosine kinases and their substrates. He suggested that SH2 domains act as adapters that mediate the binding with cell membrane receptors and cytoskeletal proteins, by showing for the first time that there is a protein that can bind to the phosphotyrosine of a signaling protein, RasGAP. He disclosed that various SH2 domains can directly bind tyrosine-phosphorylated proteins in vitro. Furthermore, he demonstrated that the binding strength between SH2 domains and their target proteins varies, explaining that each SH2 domain binds to a specific tyrosine-phosphorylated protein to induce specific intracellular signaling cascades.These achievements by Dr. Pawson laid out the scheme that adapter molecules facilitate successive protein-protein associations like the Lego blocks, thereby participating in the fundamental mechanism of signal transduction that controls cellular growth and differentiation, as well as development of cancer.

The prize award ceremony will be held in San Diego's Kyoto Laureate Symposium, a three-day celebration of the lives and works of those receiving the Kyoto Prize, a lifetime achievement award presented annually to individuals and groups worldwide. Thanks to a grant from the Inamori Foundation, and the many generous supporters of our Benefit Gala, the symposium lectures are open to the public at no charge. Each year, the Symposium features addresses by the latest Kyoto Prize Laureates and responses by esteemed scholars in the Laureates' fields. It includes representatives of business, government, independent peacemaking organizations, and academic institutions and societies.

The Kyoto Prize The Kyoto Prize is an international award honoring those who have contributed significantly to humankind's scientific, cultural, and spiritual development. The prize is presented annually in three categories: Advanced Technology, Basic Sciences, and Arts and Philosophy. Consisting of academic honors, a commemorative gold medal and a cash gift of 50 million yen (approximately $450,000), it is Japan's highest private award for human achievement.

Dr. Kazuo Inamori, President of The Inamori Foundation, established the Kyoto Prize for two reasons: first, to support his belief that there is no higher calling than to work for the greater good of all humankind; and second, to recognize those dedicated yet unsung people who improve the world through their research, science, and art. Through the Kyoto Prize, Dr. Inamori hopes both to recognize the extraordinary efforts and contributions to society made by these laureates, and to stimulate them and others to still greater heights.

Past awardees include among others

  • artists Pina Bausch, Roy Lichtenstein, Issey Miyake, Renzo Piano, Akira Kurosawa

  • conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt

  • composers György Ligeti, Witold Lutoslawski

  • philosopher Sir Karl Raimund Popper

  • biologists John Maynard Smith, Kurt Wüthrich, Sydney Brenner, Jane Goodall