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Professor Richard Axel and Professor David Paterson

On 29 April the Sir Charles Sherrington Lecture was given by Nobel Laureate Professor Richard Axel, whose lecture was titled 'Scents and Sensibility: Representations of Identity, Illusion and Value in Olfactory Cortex'. The lecture was well attended and we enjoyed an opportunity to talk further with Professor Axel after his lecture over drinks in the Sherrington Foyer. 

Professor Axel is a University Professor, and Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Columbia University Medical Center, and a codirector of Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behaviour Institute. Professor Axel is interested in the neurobiology of olfaction, or the sense of smell. He wants to understand the representation of olfactory information in the brain and the neural mechanisms that translate these representations into appropriate innate and learned behavioural responses. Working in the mouse and Drosophila, Axel and his team seek to genetically and physiologically dissect the sensory coding of odours. Their studies reveal that the anatomic organization and functional logic of olfactory circuits in Drosophila and mammals are remarkably similar, despite the organisms’ evolutionary distance from one another.

Sir Charles Sherrington, to whom this lecture series is dedicated, is a figure of great importance here at DPAG, and at Oxford University. Sherrington first coined the term “synapse” to name the Cajal description of interneuronal contact. Sherrington came to the Department in 1913 as the Waynflete Professor of Physiology. Sherrington was recommended for the chair unanimously without any other candidates being considered. He said of Oxford that its real function in the world “is to teach…what is not yet known”.

Sherrington received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1932 with Edgar Adrian for their work on the functions of neurons. Prior to the work of Sherrington and Adrian, it was widely accepted that reflexes occurred as isolated activity within a reflex arc; instead Sherrington and Adrian showed that reflexes require integrated activation and demonstrated reciprocal innervation of muscles, a principle now known as Sherrington's Law. 

Richard Axel Sherrington Lecture 1


Richard Axel meets lecture attendees