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Rolf Martin Zinkernagel

Born January 6, 1944 (1944-01-06) (age 66)
Riehen, Basel-Stadt, Switzerland
Fields immunology
Institutions University of Zurich
Known for Cytotoxic T cells
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1996)

Rolf Martin Zinkernagel AC (born January 6, 1944 in Riehen, Basel-Stadt, Switzerland) is Professor of Experimental Immunology at the University of Zurich.



He received his MD from the University of Basel in 1970 and his PhD from the Australian National University in 1975. In addition to the Nobel Prize, he also won The Albert Lasker Medical Research Award in 1995, and the Cancer Research Institute William B. Coley Award in 1987.

He is a member of the Cancer Research Institute Scientific Advisory Council, The National Academy of Sciences, and The Academy of Cancer Immunology.


Nobel Prize

Together with the Australian Peter C. Doherty he received the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of how the immune system recognizes virus-infected cells. With this he became the 24th Swiss Nobel laureate. In 1999 he was awarded an honorary Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), Australia's highest civilian honour, for his scientific work with Doherty.[1]

Viruses infect host cells and reproduce inside them. Killer T-cells destroy those infected cells so that the viruses can't reproduce. Zinkernagel and Doherty discovered that, in order for killer T cells to recognize infected cells, they had to recognize two molecules on the surface of the cell -- not only the virus antigen, but also a molecule of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). This recognition was done by a T-cell receptor on the surface of the T cell. The MHC was previously identified as being responsible for the rejection of incompatible tissues during transplantation. Zinkernagel and Doherty discovered that the MHC was responsible for the body fighting meningitis viruses too.[2]


  1. ^ It's an Honour: AC
  2. ^ The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1996 -- Illustrated Presentation

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