SIR CHARLES SHERRINGTON PRIZE LECTURE: Scents and Sensibility: Representations of Identity, Illusion and Value in Olfactory Cortex


Richard Axel is a Nobel laureate, a University Professor, and Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Columbia University Medical Center, and a codirector of Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute. Dr. Axel obtained an AB from Columbia College and an MD from Johns Hopkins Medical School. In earlier studies, Dr. 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. Professor Axel interested in the neurobiology of olfaction, or the sense of smell. He wants to understand the representation of olfactory information in the brain and the neural mechanisms that translate these representations into appropriate innate and learned behavioral responses. Working in the mouse and Drosophila, Axel and his team seek to genetically and physiologically dissect the sensory coding of odors. Their studies reveal that the anatomic organization and functional logic of olfactory circuits in Drosophila and mammals are remarkably similar, despite the organisms’ evolutionary distance from one another.