Peter C. Doherty, Ph.D.

Peter C. Doherty

 Brief Bio

Peter Charles Doherty was born in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, on October 15, 1940. After earning bachelor's and master's degrees in veterinary science from the University of Queensland, he received his Ph.D. in pathology from the University of Edinburgh in 1970. He returned to Australia to a postdoctoral fellowship followed by an appointment as a research fellow in the Department of Microbiology at The John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) at the Australian National University in Canberra. It was there that he and Zinkernagel conducted their Nobel Prize-winning research. In 1975, Doherty moved to the United States, where he was appointed associate professor at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia. He later returned to JCSMR in 1982 as professor and head of the Department of Experimental Pathology, a position he held until 1988, when he became chairman of the Department of Immunology at St. Jude's Medical Center in Memphis. In 2002, he was named Laureate Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne. He currently splits his time between the University of Melbourne and St. Jude's, where he is the Michael F. Tamer Chair of Biomedical Research. He is also the namesake and Patron of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity at the University of Melbourne, which expects to open a state-of-the-art facility capable of housing more than 700 researchers and clinicians in 2014.

 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Rolf M. Zinkernagel (AAI '76) “for their discoveries concerning the specificity of the cell mediated immune defense.”

 Lasker Award

1995 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award “for the epochal discovery of MHC restriction of T-cell recognition and the single T-cell receptor altered-self hypothesis.” Click here for more details.

 AAI Service History

Joined: 1976

The Journal of Immunology
Associate Editor: 1980–1982, 1989–1991
Section Editor: 1991–1995
Committees
Nominating Committee: 1995–1996

Other
Instructor, AAI Advanced Course in Immunology: 1991–1995

 Nobel Prize in Science

Peter C. Doherty, t. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the University of Melbourne, was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with Rolf M. Zinkernagel (AAI '76) for their work in explaining how the immune system recognizes cells infected by viruses. Their research is lauded for having laid a foundation for an understanding of the mechanisms that the immune system uses to recognize foreign microorganisms and "self." Their work elucidated distinctions between antibody-mediated and cell-mediated immunity and has had profound implications for organ transplantation, vaccine development, and the treatment of both infectious and autoimmune diseases.

In a series of experiments in mice infected with viruses, Doherty and Zinkernagel found that, while cytotoxic T cells from one mouse strain targeted and destroyed virus-infected cells in the same mouse strain, the same T cells did not kill infected cells from another mouse strain. They discovered that T cells first have to identify two kinds of molecules on the cell surface before they can actually recognize infected cells. One type of molecule is the virus antigen, and the other is a molecule from the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), a set of genes (and proteins) unique to each individual. Differences in MHC proteins had been noted in cases where organ transplants were rejected, but the exact role of the MHC in transplants was not understood until Doherty and Zinkernagel's discovery that MHC proteins tell the immune system whether or not the infected cell is from the host individual. They found that T cells have to recognize both the viral antigen and the animal's characteristic MHC protein to kill an infected cell.

"Their observations paved the way for the current understanding of how the immune system recognizes both microbial invaders and the body's own cells," said Anthony S. Fauci (AAI '73), M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, upon the announcement that Doherty and Zinkernagel would share the Nobel. "They also helped us understand, more broadly, how the immune system recognizes a molecule as self or non-self. This is a richly deserved prize for an extraordinary discovery, one that ranks among the most important in the field of immunology because of its influence on subsequent research in infectious diseases, autoimmunity, transplantation immunology, rheumatology and cancer research."

Doherty and Zinkernagel subsequently developed a pair of models to further explain their findings. One model was based on a single recognition of altered self, wherein the histocompatibility antigen was changed by a virus infection to make it appear foreign. The second model was based on dual recognition of both foreign and self molecules. Researchers later showed how this dual recognition actually occurs, with T cell receptors simultaneously recognizing the viral component or other antigen bound to an MHC protein and the MHC protein itself. In recent years, Doherty's work has focused mainly on the T cell response to viral infection, with a particular emphasis on influenza.

 Awards and Honors

  • Paul Ehrlich Prize, 1983
  • Fellow, Australian Academy of Science, 1983
  • Gairdner Foundation International Award, 1986
  • Fellow, Royal Society, 1987
  • Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, 1995
  • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1996
  • Member, National Academy of Sciences, 1998
  • Member, Institute of Medicine, 2009

 Institutional/Biographical Links