The first understanding of how brain cells communicate

1970

Challenge

Prior to the 1950s, science knew little about how nerve cells in the brain communicated with each other. Understanding the signal transmission mechanism was a fundamental challenge to meet before researchers could dive deeper into investigations of brain function.

Advance

For more than five decades, Julius Axelrod, Ph.D., studied the underpinnings of nerve communication, culminating in his seminal discovery that neurotransmitters—chemical molecules that nerves use to transmit signals—don’t just degrade upon reaching their destination, but are re-uptaken for reuse in later transmissions.

Impact

Axelrod’s discoveries revolutionized understanding of how nerve cells communicate, laying a foundation upon which development of many targeted medications for depression and anxiety were built. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.