Shizuo Akira

Robert Koch Award 2004, together with Jules A. Hoffmann and Bruce A. Beutler

The Robert Koch Foundation has awarded the 2004 Robert Koch Prize, endowed for the first time with €100,000, in equal parts to Professor Jules A. Hoffmann, Professor Bruce A. Beutler and Professor Shizuo Akira. The scientists received the prize for their ground-breaking research into the molecular mechanisms underlying signal recognition, signal transduction and effector functions in innate immunity.

Professor Shizuo Akira, of the Research Institute for Microbial Diseases in Osaka, Japan, is also involved in research into bacterial infections and innate immunity. In his search for intracellular signals, Professor Akira came across MyD88, a control switch for signal transmission of inflammatory stimuli. He was able to switch off MyD88 experimentally and show that the experimental animals no longer responded to inflammatory stimuli. Further experiments made vital contributions to our understanding of TLRs as binding sites which recognize special characteristics of bacterial pathogens. As a result of the work of the three prize-winners, the TLR family is now recognized as a general sensor system which recognizes pathogens as a form of innate immunity.