NIH Press Release
National Institute of
Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Tuesday, Oct. 8, 1996

Greg Folkers
(301) 402-1663

Doherty, Zinkernagel Win Nobel Prize

"The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is very pleased that two of our colleagues in immunology research, one of whom is a long-term grantee, have been awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine," says Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., NIAID director.

Peter C. Doherty, Ph.D., an NIAID grantee since 1977, and Rolf M. Zinkernagel, Ph.D., an NIAID grantee in the late 1970s and mid-1980s, received the award today for their discovery of how the immune system recognizes virus-infected cells.

"Their observations paved the way for the current understanding of how the immune system recognizes both microbial invaders and the body's own cells," says Dr. Fauci.

The two scientists collaborated on their prize-winning research between 1973 and 1975 at the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra, Australia. Dr. Doherty is currently chairman of the immunology department at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and holds the hospital's Michael F. Tamer Endowed Chair for Immunology Biomedical Research. Dr. Zinkernagel is professor and director of the Institute of Experimental Immunology at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

"Dr. Doherty and Dr. Zinkernagel established that the immune system recognizes microbial antigens in association with self molecules -- known as major histocompatibility antigens -- on a cell's surface," says Dr. Fauci. "Not only did their observations reveal how the immune system recognizes microbial invaders, but they also helped us understand, more broadly, how the immune system recognizes a molecule as self or non-self."

"This is a richly deserved prize for an extraordinary discovery, one that ranks among the most important in the field of immunology because of its influence on subsequent research in infectious diseases, autoimmunity, transplantation immunology, rheumatology and cancer research," he adds. "Since their early discovery, both researchers have remained leaders in the field of immunology, continuing to make important new observations and helping to unravel the mysteries of the immune system."

Of the 71 American Nobel laureates in Physiology or Medicine since 1945, 52 -- more than two-thirds -- had worked at or were supported by NIH before winning the prize. Since World War II, 114 scientists worldwide had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. More than half of them (62) had prior support from or had worked at NIH before the award.

NIAID, one of 24 separate institutes, centers and divisions of the National Institutes of Health, conducts and supports research to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious and immunologic diseases. NIH is an agency of the Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.