AXEL, RICHARD (1946– ), U.S. medical scientist and Nobel laureate in medicine. Axel was born in New York City and graduated with a B.A. from Columbia University (1967) and an M.D. from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore (1970). He was a professor at Columbia University from 1978 and a researcher at Howard Hughes Medical Institute from 1984. Axel's research interests concern the interpretation of sensory signals by the brain. He was awarded the Nobel Prize (2004) jointly with Linda Buck for their work on the olfactory system. They showed that there is only one type of receptor cell for odors in the nose and that these recognize a very limited number of odors. The nerve fibers of individual cells transmit signals to discrete regions of the olfactory bulb (glomeruli) in the brain where they activate receptors on cells controlled by many different genes, up to 1,000 in some species. Signals from these cells are relayed to different parts of the brain and processed to allow a wide range of odors to be recognized. Thus the olfactory and visual systems have many common features. Axel's many honors include election to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (1983) and the Gairdner Award (2003).
[Michael Denman (2nd ed.)]