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Colleagues, Friends Gather to Commemorate Nobel Laureate Axelrod

Press Release

Luminaries from the fields of neuroscience and mental health will gather at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Monday, May 23, to celebrate the life and achievements of one of their most honored colleagues, the late Nobel Laureate Julius Axelrod Ph.D. Dr. Axelrod, known to his friends as "Julie", spent most of his 50 years as an NIH scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which will host the symposium, Celebrating Julie.

"NIH is proud to have been Dr. Axelrod's scientific and intellectual home for the half century he spent conducting novel and successful research on a wide array of subjects," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. "The symposium is a small way of commemorating his achievements and celebrating his memory."

Dr. Axelrod, who died in December 2004 at the age of 92, did his early work at NIMH on the metabolism of lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and other psychoactive drugs. He proceeded to revolutionize the field of pineal gland research, discovering that melatonin is the gland's key hormone. He also made key discoveries about the regulation and interaction of stress hormones. But he is probably best known for his research in the early 1960's on brain chemistry, which has become fundamental to our understanding of depression and anxiety disorders. His research described the "re-uptake" mechanism in brain cells, which regulates the levels of neurotransmitters available for communication between neurons (in fact, Dr. Axelrod coined the phrase "re-uptake inhibitor"). These findings led to the development of modern antidepressant medications — Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) — and to a 1970 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for Dr. Axelrod and two other researchers.

Dr. Axelrod's curiosity and enthusiasm inspired him to investigate many topics in science, in addition to the brain. He studied the tissue distribution and metabolism of caffeine, amphetamines, ephedrine, and narcotic drugs. Prior to his discoveries, little was known about how these drugs worked in the body. Early in his career, prior to receiving his doctorate, Dr. Axelrod discovered the pain-relieving properties of acetaminophen, better known by its brand name, Tylenol.

"The Celebrating Julie symposium will reunite many of Julie's former students, colleagues, and friends. Among them are many of today’s leaders of neuroscience. I look forward to hearing about some outstanding recent discoveries — there really is no better way to celebrate Julie," said NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D.

The symposium will take place from 8:25 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. at Masur Auditorium in the Clinical Center at NIH. NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., and NIMH Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D., will preside over the meeting. Among the prestigious group of speakers will be Solomon H. Snyder, M.D., from Johns Hopkins University, and Paul Greengard, Ph.D., at Rockefeller University who received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 2000 for discoveries linked to how neurotransmitters signal across synapses in the brain.

The symposium will also highlight recent progress built on by Dr. Axelrod’s contributions. These include the role of naturally occurring marijuana-like substances and their receptors in the brain; how the brain responds to stress; neural communications underlying appetite and addiction; and how individuals react differently to drugs depending on their genetic makeup.

Overflow rooms for NIH staff will be available in Natcher Auditorium.

Visitor parking is limited at NIH. Visitors are encouraged to use the Metro (Medical Center stop on the NIH campus, Red Line). The NIH, like all Federal Government facilities, has instituted security measures to ensure the safety of NIH employees, patients, and visitors. For information about access to the campus and parking, please visit the NIH visitor information page .

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About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the NIH website .