Biosketch - Nahum Sonenberg
Dr. Sonenberg received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the Weizmann Institute of Science (Rehovot, Israel) in 1976. He joined the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, New Jersey as a Chaim Weizmann postdoctoral fellow with Aaron Shatkin. In 1979 he moved to Montreal to become an Assistant Professor and later Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at McGill University. In 1985-86 he took a sabbatical leave and was visiting professor in David Baltimore's laboratory at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. Since 2002 Dr. Sonenberg is a James McGill Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Centre at McGill.
Dr. Sonenberg's primary research interests are in the field of translational control in health and disease. Early in his career he identified the mRNA 5' cap-binding protein, eIF4E, with Aaron Shatkin. Since then he and his colleagues have studied the factors that recruit ribosomes to the mRNA. He discovered the Internal Ribosome Entry Site (IRES) mechanism of translation initiation in eukaryotes, and the regulation of cap-dependent translation by eIF4E-binding proteins (4E-BPs). The activity of these proteins is controlled by the PI3K/Akt/mTOR signaling pathway. He found that eIF4E is a proto-oncogene, whose protein levels are elevated in tumours. Subsequently, he showed that rapamycin (an anti-cancer drug which suppresses mTOR) inhibits eIF4E activity. While generating eIF4E binding protein 'knock-out' mice, he discovered that the protein plays important roles in metabolism, learning and memory, and innate immunity. More recently he showed that eIF4E is implicated in autism and Fragile-X Syndrome as well as in the function of the circadian clock.
Dr. Sonenberg has been elected to a number of prestigious societies: he is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada since 1992; he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and The Royal Society of London in 2006; he is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science since 2012, and he is an Associate Member of the EMBO since 2013. In 2015 he was elected Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences and International Member of the National Academy of Medicine (USA).
Dr. Sonenberg also received numerous awards in recognition of his leadership in biomedical research. In 2002, he received the Robert L. Noble Prize from the National Cancer Institute of Canada, and in 2005 he was awarded the Killam Prize for Health Sciences. In 2008 he received the Gairdner International Award and in 2009 the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Health Researcher of the Year Award in Biomedical and Clinical Research. Dr. Sonenberg received the 2012 Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for Distinguished Work in Basic Medical Science, the McLaughlin Medal from the Royal Society of Canada (2013), and in 2014 the Wolf Prize in Medicine. In 2016 Dr. Sonenberg received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Laval, and in 2018 he was awarded the Prix Du Quebec Wilder-Penfield Prize from the Government of Quebec, Canada.