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Julius Axelrod

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Title: Julius Axelrod  
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Julius Axelrod

Julius Axelrod
Born (1912-05-30)May 30, 1912
New York City, USA
Died December 29, 2004(2004-12-29) (aged 92)
Bethesda, Maryland, USA
Residence Bethesda, Maryland
Nationality American
Fields Biochemistry
Institutions National Institutes of Health
Alma mater George Washington University Medical School
Known for Catecholamine metabolism
Notable awards Gairdner Foundation International Award (1967)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1970)
Spouse Sally Taub (1938–1992; her death; 2 children)

Julius Axelrod (May 30, 1912 – December 29, 2004)[1] was an American biochemist. He won a share of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1970 along with Bernard Katz and Ulf von Euler. The Nobel Committee honored him for his work on the release and reuptake of catecholamine neurotransmitters, a class of chemicals in the brain that include epinephrine, norepinephrine, and, as was later discovered, dopamine. Axelrod also made major contributions to the understanding of the pineal gland and how it is regulated during the sleep-wake cycle.


  • Personal life and education 1
  • Research 2
    • Analgesic research 2.1
    • Catecholamine research 2.2
    • Pineal gland research 2.3
  • Political views 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Personal life and education

Axelrod was born in New York City, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, Molly (née Leichtling) and Isadore Axelrod, a basket weaver.[2] He received his bachelor's degree in biology from the College of the City of New York in 1933. Axelrod wanted to become a physician, but was rejected from every medical school to which he applied. He worked briefly as a laboratory technician at New York University, then in 1935 he got a job with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene testing vitamin supplements added to food. He injured his left eye when an ammonia bottle in the lab exploded; he would wear an eyepatch for the rest of his life. While working at the Department of Health, he attended night school and received his master's in sciences degree from New York University in 1941. Although he became an atheist early in life and resented the strict upbringing of his parents’ religion, he identified with Jewish culture and joined several international fights against anti-Semitism.[3] His wife of 53 years, Sally Taub Axelrod, died in 1992. At his death, he was survived by two sons, Paul and Alfred, and three grandchildren.


Analgesic research

In 1946, Axelrod took a position working under Bernard Brodie at Goldwater Memorial Hospital. The research experience and mentorship Axelrod received from Brodie would launch him on his research career. Brodie and Axelrod's research focused on how analgesics (pain-killers) work. During the 1940s, users of non-aspirin analgesics were developing a blood condition known as methemoglobinemia. Axelrod and Brodie discovered that acetanilide, the main ingredient of these pain-killers, was to blame. They found that one of the metabolites also was an analgesic. They recommended that this metabolite, acetaminophen (paracetamol, Tylenol), be used instead.

Catecholamine research

Julius Axelrod working at the blackboard on the structure of catecholamines

In 1949, Axelrod began work at the National Heart Institute, forerunner of the George Washington University Medical School. Allowed to submit some of his previous research toward his degree, he graduated one year later, in 1955. Axelrod then returned to the NIH and began some of the key research of his career.

Axelrod received his Nobel Prize for his work on the release, reuptake, and storage of the neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine, also known as adrenaline and noradrenaline. Working on monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors in 1957, Axelrod showed that catecholamine neurotransmitters do not merely stop working after they are released into the synapse. Instead, neurotransmitters are recaptured ("reuptake") by the pre-synaptic nerve ending, and recycled for later transmissions. He theorized that epinephrine is held in tissues in an inactive form and is liberated by the nervous system when needed. This research laid the groundwork for later selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Prozac, which block the reuptake of another neurotransmitter, serotonin.

In 1958, Axelrod also discovered and characterized the enzyme catechol-O-methyl transferase, which is involved in the breakdown of catecholamines.[4]

Pineal gland research

Some of Axelrod's later research focused on the pineal gland. He and his colleagues showed that the hormone melatonin is generated from tryptophan, as is the neurotransmitter serotonin. The rates of synthesis and release follows the body's circadian rhythm driven by the suprachiasmatic nucleus within the hypothalamus. Axelrod and colleagues went on to show that melatonin had wide-ranging effects throughout the central nervous system, allowing the pineal gland to function as a biological clock. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971.[5] He continued to work at the National Institute of Mental Health at the NIH until his death in 2004.

Much of his papers and awards are held at the National Library of Medicine.[6]

Political views

After receiving the Nobel Prize in 1970, Axelrod used his visibility to advocate several science policy issues. In 1973 U.S. President Soviet Union. Dr. Axelrod was a member of the Board of Sponsors of the Federation of American Scientists and the International Academy of Science.

See also


  1. ^ Iversen, L. (2006). "Julius Axelrod. 30 May 1912 -- 29 December 2004: Elected ForMemRS 1979".  
  2. ^ "American Jewish Recipients of the Nobel Prize". Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  3. ^ Craver, Carl F. (2008). "Axelrod, Julius". Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography 19. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 122. 
  4. ^ "Enzymatic O-Methylation of Epinephrine and Other Catechols – Axelrod and Tomchick 233 (3): 702 – Journal of Biological Chemistry". 
  5. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved April 28, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Julius Axelrod Papers 1910-2004 (bulk 1946-1999)". National Library of Medicine. 
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. "Profiles in Science: The Julius Axelrod Papers."
  • Snyder, S. H. (2007). "Julius Axelrod". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 151 (1): 81–90.  
  • Insel, T. R. (2006). "Introduction". Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology 26 (4–6): 4 p preceding 343, 343–1055.  
  • "Julius Axelrod (1912-2004)". Indian journal of physiology and pharmacology 49 (2): 251–252. 2005.  
  • Coyle, J. T. (2005). "Julius Axelrod (1912–2004)". Molecular Psychiatry 10 (3): 225–226.  
  • Snyder, S. H. (2005). "Obituary: Julius Axelrod (1912–2004)". Nature 433 (7026): 593.  
  • Pincock, S. (2005). "Julius Axelrod". The Lancet 365 (9457): 380–329.  
  • Raju, T. N. (1999). "The Nobel chronicles. 1970: Bernard Katz (b 1911),  
  • Shafrir, E. (1994). "Julius Axelrod, Bernard Katz and Ulf von Euler--Nobel Prize winners for the discovery of mechanisms of nerve signal transmission". Israel journal of medical sciences 30 (11): 869.  
  • Shampo, M. A.; Kyle, R. A. (1994). "Julius Axelrod--American biochemist and Nobel Prize winner". Mayo Clinic proceedings. Mayo Clinic 69 (2): 136.  
  • Iversen, L. (1992). "Remembrance: Leslie L. Iversen, Merck Sharp & Dohme Research Laboratories, Neuroscience Research Centre, Harlow, England. "The Axelrod Lab, 1964-1965"". Endocrinology 131 (1): 4.  
  • "Special issue: Tribute to Julius Axelrod on the occasion of his 75th birthday". Cellular and molecular neurobiology 8 (1): 1–138. 1988.  
  • Anon (1970). "Nobel Prizes: Neurophysiologists Honoured ( 
  • Udenfriend, S. (1970). "Nobel prize: 3 share 1970 award for medical research. 1. Von Euler and Axelrod". Science 170 (3956): 422–423.  

External links

  • Nobel Prize Biography
  • Autobiography (for Society for Neuroscience; 2.2MB pdf)
  • Julius Axelrod Papers (1910–2004) – National Library of Medicine finding aid
  • The Julius Axelrod Papers – Profiles in Science, National Library of Medicine
  • Obituary at
  • Kanigel, Robert, "Apprentice to Genius" ISBN 0-8018-4757-5.
  • Sabbatini, R.M.E.: Neurons and synapses. The history of its discovery IV. Chemical transmission. Brain & Mind, 2004.
  • National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir
  • Interview with Dr. Axelrod in the NIH Record, Feb. 19, 1991
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