Axelrod, Julius (1912-2004) was an American biochemist who researched neurotransmitters in the nervous system. He discovered that psychoactive drugs affect the brain by altering the amount of neurotransmitters in cells. Alexrod shared the 1970 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Bernard Katz from the United Kingdom and Ulf Svante von Euler from Sweden, who also studied neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals released by nerve cells to stimulate nearby cells. Enzymes are proteins that speed up chemical reaction in living cells. Axelrod investigated the role that enzymes play in breaking down the neurotransmitter noradrenaline, or norepinephrine, the neurotransmitter of the sympathetic nervous system. He isolated an enzyme he called catechol-o-methyl tranferase (COMT), which neutralizes norepinephrine. This enzyme proved useful in the research of schizophrenia, a severe mental disorder, and hypertension, or high blood pressure.
Axelrod obtained a B.Sc. degree in 1933 from the College of the City of New York. In 1935, he became a chemist at the Laboratory of Industrial Hygiene. He worked during the day and attended school at night to earn an M.A. degree from New York University in 1941.
In 1949, Axelrod accepted a position at the National Heart Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. Six years later, he received a Ph.D. degree in pharmacology from George Washington University and became chief of the pharmacology section at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Axelrod married Sally Taub in 1938 and they had two sons. Although he retired from NIMH in 1984, Alexrod continued to attend conferences and conduct research. In 1993, one of Alexrod's discoveries helped save his life. In the 1960's, Axelrod and a colleague developed a way to inject norepinephrine into the body. After Axelrod suffered a heart attack at age 80, doctors injected norepinephrine into his system to raise his dangerously low blood pressure. He died in 2004, in Rockville, Maryland, at age 92.