University Professor, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, of Neuroscience, and of Pathology
Richard Axel is University Professor and Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Columbia University Medical Center. Axel obtained an A.B. from Columbia College and an M.D. from Johns Hopkins Medical School. In earlier studies, Richard Axel and his colleagues, Michael Wigler and Saul Silverstein developed gene transfer techniques that permit the introduction of virtually any gene into any cell. These studies not only allowed for a novel approach to isolate genes but also provided a detailed analysis of how they worked. At the same time, these experiments allowed for the production of an increasingly large number of clinically important proteins. These studies also led to the isolation and functional analysis of a gene for the lymphocyte surface protein, CD4, the cellular receptor for the AIDS virus, HIV.
Dr. Axel then began to apply molecular biology to problems in neuroscience with the expectation that genetics could interface with neuroscience to approach the tenuous relationship between genes, behavior, and perception. His studies on the logic of the sense of smell revealed over a thousand genes involved in the recognition of odors and provided insight into how genes shape our perception of the sensory environment. Dr. Axel’s current work centers on how the recognition of odors is translated into an internal representation of sensory quality in the brain and how this representation leads to meaningful thoughts and behavior.