Richard Axel

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Richard Axel MD
Richard Axel.jpg
Born (1946-07-02) July 2, 1946 (age 68)
Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA
Residence USA
Citizenship United States
Fields Neuroscience
Institutions Columbia University
Alma mater Stuyvesant High School
Columbia University
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Notable students Linda B. Buck, David J. Anderson, Catherine Dulac, David Julius, Richard Scheller
Notable awards Richard Lounsbery Award (1989)
Gairdner Foundation International Award (2003)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2004)
Spouse Cornelia Bargmann

Richard Axel (born July 2, 1946) is a molecular biologist whose work on the olfactory system won him and Linda B. Buck, a former post-doctoral scientist in his research group, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004.

In their landmark paper published in 1991, Buck and Axel cloned olfactory receptors, showing that they belong to the family of G protein coupled receptors. By analyzing rat DNA, they estimated that there were approximately one thousand different genes for olfactory receptors in the mammalian genome. This research opened the door to the genetic and molecular analysis of the mechanisms of olfaction. In their later work, Buck and Axel have shown that each olfactory receptor neuron remarkably only expresses one kind of olfactory receptor protein and that the input from all neurons expressing the same receptor is collected by a single dedicated glomerulus of the olfactory bulb.


Born in New York City, New York, Axel graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1963,[1] received his A.B. in 1967 from Columbia University, and his M.D. in 1971 from Johns Hopkins University. He returned to Columbia later that year and became a full professor in 1978.

Owing to his tall stature, Axel played basketball during high school.

During the late 1970s, Axel, along with microbiologist Saul J. Silverstein, and geneticist Michael H. Wigler, discovered a technique of cotransformation, a process which allows foreign DNA to be inserted into a host cell to produce certain proteins.[2] Patents, now colloquially referred to as the "Axel patents", covering this technique were filed for February 1980 and were issued in August 1983.[3] As a fundamental process in recombinant DNA research as performed at pharmaceutical and biotech companies, this patent proved quite lucrative for Columbia University, earning it almost $100 million a year at one time, and a top spot on the list of top universities by licensing revenue.[4] The Axel patents expired in August 2000. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1983.[5]

Axel's primary research interest is on how the brain interprets the sense of smell, specifically mapping the parts of the brain that are sensitive to specific olfactory receptors. He holds the titles of University Professor at Columbia University, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and of Pathology at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. In addition to contributions to neurobiology, Axel has also made seminal discoveries in immunology, and his lab was one of the first to identify the link between HIV infection and immunoreceptor CD4.

Axel is married to fellow scientist and olfaction pioneer Cornelia "Cori" Bargmann.[6] Previously, he had been married to Ann Axel, who is a social worker at Columbia University Medical Center.

In addition to making contributions as a scientist, Axel has also mentored many leading scientists in the field of neurobiology. Seven of his trainees have become members of the National Academy of Sciences, and currently six of his trainees are affiliated with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's investigator and early scientist award programs.

Key papers[edit]

This is the paper in which Linda B. Buck and Axel first describe the discovery of the odorant receptors, which was the basis for their shared Nobel Prize.[citation needed]

  • Pellicer A, Wigler M, Axel R, Silverstein S (May 1978). "The transfer and stable integration of the HSV thymidine kinase gene into mouse cells". Cell 14 (1): 133–41. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(78)90308-2. PMID 208776. 
  • Pellicer A, Robins D, Wold B, et al. (September 1980). "Altering genotype and phenotype by DNA-mediated gene transfer". Science 209 (4463): 1414–22. doi:10.1126/science.7414320. PMID 7414320. 

These are the papers describing DNA transfection, a critical tool for the entire revolution in biology, in which genes can be modified and then stably transferred into cells. This paper was the basis for the "Axel patent" which at one time brought Columbia University as much as $100 million per year.[4]

Selected other publications in chronological order[edit]

  • Axel R, Schlom J, Spiegelman S (January 1972). "Presence in human breast cancer of RNA homologous to mouse mammary tumour virus RNA". Nature 235 (5332): 32–6. doi:10.1038/235032a0. PMID 4332799. 
  • Weinstein IB, Gebert R, Stadler UC, Orenstein JM, Axel R (December 1972). "Type C virus from cell cultures of chemically induced rat hepatomas". Science 178 (4065): 1098–100. doi:10.1126/science.178.4065.1098. PMID 4343844. 
  • McAllister LB, Scheller RH, Kandel ER, Axel R (November 1983). "In situ hybridization to study the origin and fate of identified neurons". Science 222 (4625): 800–8. doi:10.1126/science.6356362. PMID 6356362. 
  • Gay D, Maddon P, Sekaly R, et al. (1987). "Functional interaction between human T-cell protein CD4 and the major histocompatibility complex HLA-DR antigen". Nature 328 (6131): 626–9. doi:10.1038/328626a0. PMID 3112582. 
  • Julius D, MacDermott AB, Axel R, Jessell TM (July 1988). "Molecular characterization of a functional cDNA encoding the serotonin 1c receptor". Science 241 (4865): 558–64. doi:10.1126/science.3399891. PMID 3399891. 
  • Deen KC, McDougal JS, Inacker R, et al. (January 1988). "A soluble form of CD4 (T4) protein inhibits AIDS virus infection". Nature 331 (6151): 82–4. doi:10.1038/331082a0. PMID 3257544. 
  • Julius D, Livelli TJ, Jessell TM, Axel R (June 1989). "Ectopic expression of the serotonin 1c receptor and the triggering of malignant transformation". Science 244 (4908): 1057–62. doi:10.1126/science.2727693. PMID 2727693. 
  • Ryu SE, Kwong PD, Truneh A, et al. (November 1990). "Crystal structure of an HIV-binding recombinant fragment of human CD4". Nature 348 (6300): 419–26. doi:10.1038/348419a0. PMID 2247146. 
  • Robey EA, Ramsdell F, Kioussis D, et al. (June 1992). "The level of CD8 expression can determine the outcome of thymic selection". Cell 69 (7): 1089–96. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(92)90631-L. PMID 1617724. 
  • Ngai J, Dowling MM, Buck L, Axel R, Chess A (March 1993). "The family of genes encoding odorant receptors in the channel catfish". Cell 72 (5): 657–66. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(93)90395-7. PMID 7916654. 
  • Ngai J, Chess A, Dowling MM, Necles N, Macagno ER, Axel R (March 1993). "Coding of olfactory information: topography of odorant receptor expression in the catfish olfactory epithelium". Cell 72 (5): 667–80. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(93)90396-8. PMID 8453662. 
  • Vassar R, Ngai J, Axel R (July 1993). "Spatial segregation of odorant receptor expression in the mammalian olfactory epithelium". Cell 74 (2): 309–18. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(93)90422-M. PMID 8343958. 
  • Chess A, Simon I, Cedar H, Axel R (September 1994). "Allelic inactivation regulates olfactory receptor gene expression". Cell 78 (5): 823–34. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(94)90562-2. PMID 8087849. 
  • Vassar R, Chao SK, Sitcheran R, Nuñez JM, Vosshall LB, Axel R (December 1994). "Topographic organization of sensory projections to the olfactory bulb". Cell 79 (6): 981–91. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(94)90029-9. PMID 8001145. 
  • Dulac C, Axel R (October 1995). "A novel family of genes encoding putative pheromone receptors in mammals". Cell 83 (2): 195–206. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(95)90161-2. PMID 7585937. 
  • Mombaerts P, Wang F, Dulac C, et al. (November 1996). "Visualizing an olfactory sensory map". Cell 87 (4): 675–86. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(00)81387-2. PMID 8929536. 
  • Amrein H, Axel R (February 1997). "Genes expressed in neurons of adult male Drosophila". Cell 88 (4): 459–69. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(00)81886-3. PMID 9038337. 
  • Wang F, Nemes A, Mendelsohn M, Axel R (April 1998). "Odorant receptors govern the formation of a precise topographic map". Cell 93 (1): 47–60. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(00)81145-9. PMID 9546391. 
  • Vosshall LB, Amrein H, Morozov PS, Rzhetsky A, Axel R (March 1999). "A spatial map of olfactory receptor expression in the Drosophila antenna". Cell 96 (5): 725–36. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(00)80582-6. PMID 10089887. 
  • Belluscio L, Koentges G, Axel R, Dulac C (April 1999). "A map of pheromone receptor activation in the mammalian brain". Cell 97 (2): 209–20. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(00)80731-X. PMID 10219242. 
  • Vosshall LB, Wong AM, Axel R (July 2000). "An olfactory sensory map in the fly brain". Cell 102 (2): 147–59. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(00)00021-0. PMID 10943836. 
  • Gogos JA, Osborne J, Nemes A, Mendelsohn M, Axel R (November 2000). "Genetic ablation and restoration of the olfactory topographic map". Cell 103 (4): 609–20. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(00)00164-1. PMID 11106731. 
  • Scott K, Brady R, Cravchik A, et al. (March 2001). "A chemosensory gene family encoding candidate gustatory and olfactory receptors in Drosophila". Cell 104 (5): 661–73. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(01)00263-X. PMID 11257221. 
  • Wong AM, Wang JW, Axel R (April 2002). "Spatial representation of the glomerular map in the Drosophila protocerebrum". Cell 109 (2): 229–41. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(02)00707-9. PMID 12007409. 
  • Wang JW, Wong AM, Flores J, Vosshall LB, Axel R (January 2003). "Two-photon calcium imaging reveals an odor-evoked map of activity in the fly brain". Cell 112 (2): 271–82. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(03)00004-7. PMID 12553914. 
  • Cutforth T, Moring L, Mendelsohn M, et al. (August 2003). "Axonal ephrin-As and odorant receptors: coordinate determination of the olfactory sensory map". Cell 114 (3): 311–22. doi:10.1016/S0092-8674(03)00568-3. PMID 12914696. 
  • Eggan K, Baldwin K, Tackett M, et al. (March 2004). "Mice cloned from olfactory sensory neurons". Nature 428 (6978): 44–9. doi:10.1038/nature02375. PMID 14990966. 
  • Barnea G, O'Donnell S, Mancia F, et al. (June 2004). "Odorant receptors on axon termini in the brain". Science 304 (5676): 1468. doi:10.1126/science.1096146. PMID 15178793. 
  • Shykind BM, Rohani SC, O'Donnell S, et al. (June 2004). "Gene switching and the stability of odorant receptor gene choice". Cell 117 (6): 801–15. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2004.05.015. PMID 15186780. 
  • Lomvardas S, Barnea G, Pisapia DJ, Mendelsohn M, Kirkland J, Axel R (July 2006). "Interchromosomal interactions and olfactory receptor choice". Cell 126 (2): 403–13. doi:10.1016/j.cell.2006.06.035. PMID 16873069. 

Awards and nominations[edit]

Double Helix Medal

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Eisner, Robin (Winter 2005). "Richard Axel: One of the Nobility in Science". P&S (Columbia University). Retrieved 31 October 2007. 
  2. ^ Wigler M, Pellicer A, Silverstein S, Axel R, Urlaub G, Chasin L (March 1979). "DNA-mediated transfer of the adenine phosphoribosyltransferase locus into mammalian cells". Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 76 (3): 1373–1376. doi:10.1073/pnas.76.3.1373. PMC 383253. PMID 286319. 
  3. ^ Colaianni CA, Cook-Deegan, RM (September 2009). "Columbia University's Axel Patents: Technology Transfer and Implications for the Bayh-Dole Act". Milbank Q 87 (3): 683–71. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0009.2009.00575.x. PMC 2750841. PMID 19751286. 
  4. ^ a b Colaianni CA, Cook-Deegan, RM (September 2009). "Columbia University's Axel Patents: Technology Transfer and Implications for the Bayh-Dole Act". Milbank Q 87 (3): 683–71. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0009.2009.00575.x. PMC 2750841. PMID 19751286. 
  5. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 28 April 2011. 
  6. ^ Axel R (December 2004). "Richard Axel – Autobiography. From Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Prizes 2004, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, Nobel Foundation, Stockholm, 2005". 

External links[edit]