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Richard Axel

Richard Axel, M.D.

University Professor, Co-director, The Mind Brain Behavior Initiative
Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Member, The Kavli Institute for Brain Science
Hammer Health Sciences Center, 10th Floor
Tel +1 212-305-6915

Area of Research

Neurogenetics, Sensory Physiology


Defining the logic of olfactory perception; how individual sensory neurons express a specific receptor and how the brain distinguishes which receptors have been activated.


Mammals possess an olfactory system of inordinate discriminatory power. We are studying how the diversity and specificity of olfactory perception is accomplished. Our analysis of the patterns of expression of the odorant receptor genes, coupled with earlier electrophysiologic experiments have provided a logic for olfactory discrimination. Individual olfactory sensory neurons express only one of a thousand receptor genes. Neurons expressing a given receptor, although randomly distributed in domains in the epithelium, project their axons to a small number of topographically fixed loci or glomeruli in the olfactory bulb. These data support a model of olfactory coding in which discrimination of odor quality would result from the detection of specific spatial patterns of activity in the olfactory bulb.


2008    Fleischmann, A., B.M. Shykind, D.L. Sosulski, K.M. Franks, M>E. Glinka, D-F., Mei, Y. Sun, J. Kirkland, M., M. Mendelsohn, M.W. Albers, and R. Axel.  Mice with a “Monoclonal: Nose:  Perturbations in an Olfactory Map Impair Odor Discrimination. Neuron 60:1068-1081.

2008    Datta. S.R.,  M.L.Vasconcelos, V. Ruta, S. Luo,  A. Wong, E. Demir, J. Flores, K. Balonze, B.J.Dickson, and R. Axel.  The Drosophila pheromone cVA activates a sexually dimorphic neural circuit.  Nature  452:473-477.

2008    Barnea, G., W. Strapps, G. Herrada, Y. Berman, J. Ong, B. Kloss, R. Axel, and K. J.Lee.  The genetic design of signaling cascades to record receptor activation.  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., USA (December 28, 2007, Published Ahead of Print) 105(1) 64-69.

2007    Mancia, F., S. Brenner-Morton, R. Siegel, Z. Assur, Y. Sun, Y, I. Schieren,  M. Mendelsohn, R. Axel, and W. Hendrickson.  Production and characterization of monoclonal antibodies sensitive to conformation in the 5HT2c serotonin receptor. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci., USA 104: 4303-4308

2006    Lomvardas, S., G. Barnea., D.J. Pisapia,, and R. Axel.   Interchromosomal interaction and olfactory receptor choice.  Cell, 126:403-413.

2004    Suh, S.B., A.M. Wong, A.C. Hergarden, J.W. Wang, A. Simon, S. Benzer, R. Axel, and D.J. Anderson.  A single population of olfactory sensory neurons mediates an innate avoidance behavior in Drosophila.  Nature 431:854-859.

2004    Shah, N.M., D. Pisapia., S. Maniatis, M. Mendelsohn, A. Nemes, and R. Axel.  Visualizing sexual dimorphism in the brain.   Neuron 43:313-319.