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Professor Rolf M. ZINKERNAGEL (2006)

Born and raised in Basle, Rolf Zinkernagel went through Medical School of the University of Basle, got his MD degree in 1968 and wanted to become a surgeon. After about 1 1/2 years he decided to look into immunological research problems, went through the Postgraduate Course in Experimental Medicine at the University of Zurich and spent 2 1/2 years in the Institute of Biochemistry of Lausanne working on immunity against infections. From 1973-1975 he was a postdoc at the Australian national University John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra, Australia, where Peter Doherty and he made seminal observations on how cytotoxic T cells recognize virus infected cells in an infected host. Subsequently at the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla, California, and after 1980 at the University of Zurich, he studied antiviral immune protection and immuno-pathology caused by virus infections.

Besides his interests in solving uncertainties and discrepancies in Immunology he tries to further biomedical research and its application in Zurich, in Switzerland and Europe. He has supported gene technology and animal experimentation in various vocations in Switzerland and Europe, and has helped to popularize science in tabloid newspapers.

Professor Zinkernagel and Peter C. Doherty are the winners of the Nobel Prize in physiology or Medicine 1996 for their discoveries concerning the specificity of the cell mediated immune defense.

gThier findings had an immediate impact on immunological research. The wide relevance of their observations concerning the specificity of the T-lymphocytes became apparent in many contexts, both in regard to the ability of the immune system to recognize microorganisms other than viruses, and in regard to the ability of the immune system to react against certain kinds of self tissue. To explain their findings, the two scientists subsequently devised two models; one model was based on a single recognition of 'altered self''(when the histocompatibility antigen has been modified through association with a virus), the other on a 'dual recognition' of both foreign and self. Both the experimental findings and the theoretical models became immensely important in later research. Within a few years, it had been demonstrated that the set of the T- lymphocytes that are allowed to mature and survive in an individual is determined by the ability of the cell to recognize the transplantation antigens of the individual. Therefore, the principle of simultaneous recognition is essential for the ability of the immune system to distinguish between 'self' and 'non-self'.

Further molecular research has both confirmed Zinkernagel's and Doherty's models and clarified the structural basis of their discovery - that a small part (a peptide), for example from a virus, is directly bound to a defined variable part of the bodyLs own histocompatibility antigens, and that this complex is what is recognized by the specific recognition molecules of T- lymphocytes (T-cell receptors). Taken in all, the clarification of the recognition mechanisms of the T-cells within the cellular immune system has fundamentally changed our understanding of the development and normal function of the immune system and, in addition, has also provided new possibilities for the selective modification of immune reactions both to microorganisms, and to self tissues.h

(Cited from http://nobelprize.org/medicine/laureates/1996/press.html)