Martin Rodbell

Rodbell, Martin (1925-1998) was an American biochemist. He won the 1994 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for his research into signaling mechanisms in cells. He shared the prize with the American physician Alfred Goodman Gilman, whose work proved Rodbell's theory explaining such mechanisms.

Rodbell was born on Dec. 1, 1925, in Baltimore. In the mid-1940's, during World War II (1939–1945), he served in the U.S. Navy as a radio operator in the South Pacific and on ships in the China Seas. Rodbell received a B.A. degree in biology from Johns Hopkins University in 1949 and a Ph.D. degree in biochemistry from the University of Washington in 1954.


From 1954 to 1956, Rodbell worked as a research associate in biochemistry at the University of Illinois. From 1956 to 1985, he was a biochemical researcher at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. In the 1960's and 1970's, Rodbell and his colleagues at the NIH did research that showed that cell communication involves three parts: (1) an amplifier, which regulates a molecule that speeds up chemical reactions, (2) a receptor, or second messenger, such as a hormone, and (3) a transducer, a substance that helps translate and pass along the signals a cell receives from other cells or from the outside environment. He theorized that the transducer function was carried out by substances he called G-proteins. In 1977, Gilman proved that G-proteins do exist and serve as transducers. This explanation of cell communication has helped scientists better understand how diseases such as cancer and cholera develop.

Rodbell served as director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, from 1985 to 1994. He died of cardiovascular disease Dec. 7, 1998, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.