Nahum Sonenberg, Ph.D.

Gilman Cheney Professor, McGill University

SFARI Investigator Website

Nahum Sonenberg received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel in 1976. He then 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. From 1985 to 1986 he took a sabbatical leave to serve as visiting professor in David Baltimore’s laboratory at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. Since 2002, Sonenberg has been a James McGill Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Institute at McGill.

Sonenberg’s primary research interests are in the field of control of mRNA translation in health and disease. Early in his career, he identified the mRNA 5′ cap-binding protein, eIF4E, with Aaron Shatkin. 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 4E-BPs is controlled by the PI3K/Akt/mTOR signaling pathway. Sonenberg found that eIF4E is a proto-oncogene whose encoded protein levels are elevated in tumors. 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 and others have demonstrated that eIF4E is implicated in autism and fragile X syndrome as well as in regulation of the circadian clock.

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