Birthday: May 30, 1912
Died At Age: 92
Sun Sign: Gemini
Born in: New York, United States
Famous as: Biochemist
Spouse/Ex-: Sally Taub (m. 1938; her death 1992)
children: Paul and Alfred
Died on: December 29, 2004
U.S. State: New Yorkers
awards: 1970 - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
1967 - Gairdner Foundation International Award
Julius Axelrod was an American biochemist who was one of winners of 1970 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He won the award for his work on the release and reuptake of catecholamine neurotransmitters, a class of chemicals in the brain. He also made notable contributions to the understanding of the pineal gland. Born in New York City to Jewish immigrants from Poland, he became interested in science, especially medicine, at a young age. He received a bachelor's degree in biology from the College of the City of New York. He wanted to become a doctor but was rejected by every medical school to which he applied. He began his career working as a chemist before joining the research division of Goldwater Memorial Hospital where he worked under the prominent biochemist Bernard Beryl Brodie who was a major figure in the field of drug metabolism. Under his mentorship, Axelrod ventured into a career in research and performed vital studies on analgesic medications. Eventually he joined the National Institute of Mental Health where he spent the rest of his career. The key research of his career was regarding the release, reuptake, and storage of the neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine which made him a joint winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1970 along with Bernard Katz and Ulf von Euler.
Childhood & Early Life
Julius Axelrod was born in New York City on May 30, 1912. His parents, Molly and Isadore Axelrod, were Jewish immigrants from Poland. His father was a basket weaver.
Julius was interested in science from a young age and received a bachelor's degree in biology from the College of the City of New York in 1933. He aspired to be a physician but was rejected by every medical school he applied to.
After working for a short while as a laboratory technician at New York University, he got a job with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in 1935. One of his responsibilities was to test vitamin supplements added to food. He also attended night school during this time and received his master's degree in sciences from New York University in 1941.
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In 1946, Julius Axelrod was appointed as a Research Associate at the Third New York University Research Division, Goldwater Memorial Hospital. There he worked under the prominent biochemist Bernard Brodie and the two men researched on how analgesics (pain-killers) work.
At that time it was discovered that users of non-aspirin analgesics were developing a blood condition known as methemoglobinemia. Axelrod and Brodie found out that acetanilide, the main ingredient of these pain-killers, was the cause of the issue.
Their research also led to the discovery that the chemical acetaminophen had pain relieving properties and recommended its use. Marketed as Paracetamol, Tylenol, and Panadol, acetaminophen became a very popular painkiller worldwide.
In 1949, Axelrod was made the Associate Chemist in the Section on Chemical Pharmacology, National Heart Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. He was promoted to Senior Chemist in 1953. Here he researched on the sympathetic nervous system and its main neurotransmitters, epinephrine and norepinephrine.
He was appointed Chief of the Section on Pharmacology in the Laboratory of Clinical Science at the National Institute of Mental Health in 1955. He remained at the institute until his retirement in 1984.
In the 1950s he conducted vital research on catecholamine. While working on monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, he showed that catecholamine neurotransmitters do not merely stop working after they are released into the synapse. This discovery led to further research on the release, reuptake, and storage of the neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine, also known as adrenaline and noradrenaline.
In the late 1950s he discovered and isolated the enzyme catechol-O-methyl transferase, which is involved in the breakdown of catecholamines. The discovery of this enzyme helped in gaining an understanding of the entire nervous system, and also proved useful in research on hypertension and schizophrenia.
During his later years he focused on research on the pineal gland. Working along with his colleagues, he showed that the hormone melatonin is generated from tryptophan, as is the neurotransmitter serotonin. He also proved that melatonin had wide-ranging effects throughout the central nervous system.
He also served as a Member of the editorial boards and committees of a number of journals including ‘Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics’, ‘Journal of Neurochemistry’, and ‘International Journal of Psychobiology’.
Julius Axelrod was known for his research on Catecholamine metabolism. He also discovered and characterized the enzyme catechol-O-methyl transferase, which is involved in the breakdown of catecholamines.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Gairdner Foundation International Award in 1967.
Julius Axelrod along with Sir Bernard Katz and Ulf von Euler was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1970 "for their discoveries concerning the humoral transmittors in the nerve terminals and the mechanism for their storage, release and inactivation".
Personal Life & Legacy
Julius Axelrod married Sally Taub in 1938. They had two children. His wife died in 1992 after 53 years of marriage.
He injured his left eye when an ammonia bottle in the lab exploded. He wore an eyepatch for the rest of his life.
He died on December 29, 2004, in Maryland, USA, at the age of 92.