David Julius

University of California, San Francisco
Biological Sciences
Member Since

Dr. David Julius is Professor and Chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of California, San Francisco, where he holds the Morris Herzstein Chair in Molecular Biology & Medicine. Julius works to understand how signals are received and transmitted by the nervous system. In his research, he has exploited the power of natural products to elucidate molecular mechanisms of touch and pain sensation. In order to do this, he asked how capsaicin, the main pungent ingredient in "hot" chili peppers, elicits burning pain and how menthol, the cooling agent in mint leaves, evokes an icy cool sensation. Using these agents as pharmacological probes, his lab has identified ion channels on sensory nerve fibers that are activated by heat or cold, providing molecular insight into the process of thermosensation. With the aid of genetic, electrophysiological, and behavioral methods, Julius and his lab are currently focused on how these ion channels contribute to the detection of heat or cold, and how their activity is modulated in response to tumor growth, infection, or other forms of injury that produce inflammation and pain hypersensitivity. In addition to his work on somatosensation and pain, Julius also studies structure and function of specific neurotransmitter receptors, such as those activated by serotonin or extracellular nucleotides, and uses genetic methods to identify roles for these receptors in physiological and behavioral processes, such as feeding, anxiety, pain, thrombosis, and cell growth and motility. Julius has received numerous awards, including most recently the Unilever Science Prize, the Passano Award, the Prince of Asturias Prize for Technical and Scientific Research, and the Shaw Prize in Life Sciences and Medicine. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences in addition to his American Academy of Arts and Sciences membership. His publications appear in Nature and Science, among other prominent journals.

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