Richard Axel (born July 2, 1946) is an American molecular biologist and university professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Columbia University and investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His work on the olfactory system won him and Linda Buck, a former postdoctoral research scientist in his group, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2004.
Education and early life
Born in New York City to Polish Jewish immigrants, Axel grew up in Brooklyn. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1963, received his B.A. in 1967 from Columbia University, and his M.D. in 1971 from Johns Hopkins University. He returned to Columbia later that year and eventually became a full professor in 1978.
Research and career
During the late 1970s, Axel, along with microbiologist Saul J. Silverstein and geneticist Michael H. Wigler, discovered a technique of cotransformation via transfection, a process which allows foreign DNA to be inserted into a host cell to produce certain proteins. A family of patents, now colloquially referred to as the "Axel patents", covering this technique were filed for February 1980 and were issued in August 1983. 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. The Axel patents expired in August 2000.
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.
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.
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.
Awards and honors
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Axel has won numerous awards and honors. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1983. In 2005, Axel received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.
Richard Axel is a distinguished molecular biologist and neuroscientist. He developed gene transfer techniques that permit the introduction of virtually any gene into any cell permitting the production of a large number of clinically important proteins and leading to the isolation of a gene for CD4, the cellular receptor for the AIDS virus, HIV. He then applied molecular biology to neuroscience revealing over a thousand genes involved in the recognition of odours, a discovery for which he shared the Nobel Prize in 2004. He currently explores how odour recognition is translated into internal representations in the brain.
Axel is married to fellow scientist and olfaction pioneer Cornelia Bargmann. Previously, he had been married to Ann Axel, who is a social worker at Columbia University Medical Center. Owing to his tall stature, Axel played basketball during high school.
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- Pellicer, A; Robins, D; Wold, B; Sweet, R; Jackson, J; Lowy, I; Roberts, J. M.; Sim, G. K.; Silverstein, S; Axel, R (1980). "Altering genotype and phenotype by DNA-mediated gene transfer". Science. 209 (4463): 1414–22. Bibcode:1980Sci...209.1414P. doi:10.1126/science.7414320. PMID 7414320.
- Wigler, M; Sweet, R; Sim, G. K.; Wold, B; Pellicer, A; Lacy, E; Maniatis, T; Silverstein, S; Axel, R (1979). "Transformation of mammalian cells with genes from procaryotes and eucaryotes". Cell. 16 (4): 777–85. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(79)90093-x. PMID 222468. S2CID 25495031.
- Wigler, M; Pellicer, A; Silverstein, S; Axel, R; Urlaub, G; Chasin, L (1979). "DNA-mediated transfer of the adenine phosphoribosyltransferase locus into mammalian cells". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 76 (3): 1373–6. Bibcode:1979PNAS...76.1373W. doi:10.1073/pnas.76.3.1373. PMC 383253. PMID 286319.
- Wigler, M; Silverstein, S; Lee, L. S.; Pellicer, A; Cheng, Yc; Axel, R (1977). "Transfer of purified herpes virus thymidine kinase gene to cultured mouse cells". Cell. 11 (1): 223–32. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(77)90333-6. PMID 194704. S2CID 46090608.
- Maddon, P. J.; Dalgleish, A. G.; McDougal, J. S.; Clapham, P. R.; Weiss, R. A.; Axel, R (1986). "The T4 gene encodes the AIDS virus receptor and is expressed in the immune system and the brain". Cell. 47 (3): 333–48. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(86)90590-8. PMID 3094962. S2CID 20377918.
- Colaianni, A; Cook-Deegan, R (2009). "Columbia University's Axel patents: Technology transfer and implications for the Bayh-Dole Act". Milbank Quarterly. 87 (3): 683–715. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0009.2009.00575.x. PMC 2750841. PMID 19751286.
- Buck, L.; Axel, R. (1991). "A novel multigene family may encode odorant receptors: A molecular basis for odor recognition". Cell. 65 (1): 175–187. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(91)90418-X. PMID 1840504.
- Mombaerts, P; Wang, F; Dulac, C; Chao, S. K.; Nemes, A; Mendelsohn, M; Edmondson, J; Axel, R (1996). "Visualizing an olfactory sensory map". Cell. 87 (4): 675–86. doi:10.1016/s0092-8674(00)81387-2. PMID 8929536. S2CID 7999466.
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