Robert Lefkowitz

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Robert Lefkowitz
Lefkowitz in Stockholm 2012
Robert Joseph Lefkowitz

(1943-04-15) April 15, 1943 (age 80)
The Bronx, New York City, US
Alma materColumbia University
Known forG protein coupled receptors
Spouse(s)Arna Brandel (divorced)
Lynn Tilley
(m. 1991)
AwardsNational Medal of Science (2007)
BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2009)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2012)
Scientific career
Notable studentsBrian Kobilka,[1] Jeffrey Benovic, Michel Bouvier, Marc G. Caron, Richard A. Cerione, Henrik Dohlman, Walter J. Koch, Lee Limbird,[2] Martin J. Lohse, Gang Pei, Lewis "Rusty" Williams, R. Sanders Williams

Robert Joseph Lefkowitz (born April 15, 1943) is an American physician (internist and cardiologist) and biochemist. He is best known for his discoveries that reveal the inner workings of an important family G protein-coupled receptors, for which he was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Brian Kobilka. He is currently an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as well as a James B. Duke Professor of Medicine and Professor of Biochemistry and Chemistry at Duke University.

Early life[edit]

Lefkowitz was born on April 15, 1943, in The Bronx, New York to Jewish parents Max and Rose Lefkowitz. Their families had emigrated to the United States from Poland in the late 19th century.[3][4]

After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science in 1959,[5] he attended Columbia College from which he received a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry 1962.[6]

He graduated from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1966 with an M.D. degree. After serving an internship and one year of general medical residency at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, he served as clinical and research associate at the National Institutes of Health from 1968 to 1970.


Upon completing his medical residency and research and clinical training in 1973, he was appointed associate professor of medicine and assistant professor of biochemistry at the Duke University Medical Center. In 1977, he was promoted to professor of medicine and in 1982 to James B. Duke Professor of Medicine at Duke University.[7] He is also a professor of biochemistry and a professor of chemistry. He has been an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1976 and was an established investigator of the American Heart Association from 1973–1976.[7]

Lefkowitz studies receptor biology and signal transduction and is most well known for his detailed characterizations of the sequence, structure and function of the β-adrenergic and related receptors and for the discovery and characterization of the two families of proteins which regulate them, the G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) kinases and β-arrestins.[8]

Lefkowitz made a remarkable contribution in the mid-1980s when he and his colleagues cloned the gene first for the β-adrenergic receptor, and then rapidly thereafter, for a total of 8 adrenergic receptors (receptors for adrenaline and noradrenaline). This led to the seminal discovery that all GPCRs (which include the β-adrenergic receptor) have a very similar molecular structure. The structure is defined by an amino acid sequence which weaves its way back and forth across the plasma membrane seven times. Today we know that about 1,000 receptors in the human body belong to this same family. The importance of this is that all of these receptors use the same basic mechanisms so that pharmaceutical researchers now understand how to effectively target the largest receptor family in the human body. Today, as many as 30 to 50 percent of all prescription drugs are designed to "fit" like keys into the similarly structured locks of Lefkowitz' receptors—everything from anti-histamines to ulcer drugs to beta blockers that help relieve hypertension, angina and coronary disease.[9] Lefkowitz is among the most highly cited researchers in the fields of biology, biochemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, and clinical medicine according to Thomson-ISI.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Lefkowitz is married to Lynn (née Tilley). He has five children and six grandchildren. He was previously married to Arna Brandel.[6]

In 2021, Lefkowitz published a memoir entitled A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Stockholm: The Adrenaline-Fueled Adventures of an Accidental Scientist.[11] This book was co-authored by Randy Hall, who was a post-doctoral fellow in the Lefkowitz lab in the 1990's. The book describes Lefkowitz's early life, training as a physician, and tenure in the United States Public Health Service (the "Yellow Berets" of the NIH), which began as a means of fulfilling his draft obligation during the Vietnam War but ultimately ignited a lifelong passion for research. The second half of the book describes Lefkowitz's research career and various adventures both before and after his Nobel Prize win. Upon publication in February 2021, the book was named as "New & Noteworthy" by The New York Times[12] and "one of the week's best science picks" by Nature.[13]


Lefkowitz has received numerous awards including:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2012".
  2. ^ Snyder, Bill. "Nobel in Chemistry reveals VU ties that bind". Vanderbilt University.
  3. ^ Ralph Snyderman (October 3, 2011). "Introduction of Robert J. Lefkowitz". The Journal of Clinical Investigation. 121 (10). 4192–4300. doi:10.1172/JCI60816. PMC 3195491. PMID 21965339. Retrieved October 12, 2012.
  4. ^ Jay Price (December 30, 2012). "Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, Nobel in hand, still shapes young researchers". News & Observer. Archived from the original on January 20, 2013. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  5. ^ Newman, Andy (October 10, 2012). "Another Nobel for Bronx Science, This One in Chemistry". New York Times.
  6. ^ a b "Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, Nobel in hand, still shapes young researchers - Local/State -". Archived from the original on January 20, 2013. Retrieved January 17, 2013.
  7. ^ a b "HHMI Investigators – Robert J. Lefkowitz, M.D". Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  8. ^ "Robert J. Lefkowitz, M.D. Biography and Interview". American Academy of Achievement.
  9. ^ "Pioneers of cell receptor research share America's top prize in medicine". Albany Medical Center Website.
  10. ^ "Highly Cited Research – Research Analytics – Thomson Reuters". December 31, 2011. Retrieved October 12, 2012.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Stockholm". Retrieved March 31, 2021.
  12. ^ "New & Noteworthy, From Food Policy to Communicating With the Dead". The New York Times. February 2, 2021. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved March 31, 2021.
  13. ^ Robinson, Andrew (March 17, 2021). "The accidental Nobel laureate, what we owe to our voices and the philosophy of touch: Books in Brief". Nature. 591 (7850): 364. Bibcode:2021Natur.591..364R. doi:10.1038/d41586-021-00661-4.
  14. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  15. ^ "Biomedicine 2009 Robert J. Lefkowitz". BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Awards. Archived from the original on March 17, 2016. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  16. ^ "North Carolina scientist wins American Heart Association award for discovering receptors' role as specific targets for drug therapy". American Heart Association. November 15, 2009. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  17. ^ "Robert Lefkowitz receiving the National Medal of Science". Duke University. September 28, 2008. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved January 14, 2013. – YouTube video of the ceremony
  18. ^ Duke Medicine News and Communications (September 28, 2008). "Duke Medicine Physician-Scientist Receives National Medal of Science". Duke Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  19. ^ "Announcement and Citation". The Shaw Prize. June 12, 2007. Archived from the original on April 7, 2016. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  20. ^ "Albany Medical Center Prize". Albany Medical College. Archived from the original on July 17, 2012. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  21. ^ "Fondation Lefoulon Delalande – Historique des prix". Fondation Lefoulon – Delalande. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  22. ^ "Jessie Stevenson Kovalenko Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  23. ^ "Bristol Myers Squib Achievements". Bristol-Myers Squibb. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  24. ^ "Robert J. Lefkowitz". Gairdner. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  25. ^ "Previous Winners of Society Awards" (PDF). American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. Retrieved January 14, 2013.

External links[edit]

Preceded by Nobel Prize in Chemistry laureate
With: Brian Kobilka
Succeeded by