December 29, 1946

(Wetzlar, Germany)


PhD, Weizmann Institute of Science, Department of Biochemistry (1976)

Postdoctoral Fellow, Roche Institute of Molecular Biology (1979)

Awards & Honours:

2024: Doctor of Science Honorary Degree, University of Lethbridge

2022: Honorary Doctorate, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel

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Nahum Sonenberg

A celebrated scientist of world reputation, Dr. Sonenberg has helped realize the health enhancing potential of biochemistry and molecular biology research.

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One of Canada’s preeminent biomedical scientists, Dr. Sonenberg, has advanced our understanding of viruses, cancer growth and development, memory and cognition, synaptic plasticity, spatial learning, and autism spectrum disorders. The common element in this diversity is Dr. Sonenberg’s insight into the mechanisms of deciphering genetic information to produce proteins, a process known as messenger RNA translation. Dr. Sonenberg’s discovery of eIF4E, the protein that binds mRNA and recruits it to the ribosome to commence translation was a landmark event helping unravel the mechanisms controlling the rate of protein synthesis, the foundation of the modern field of translational control. From Dr. Sonenberg’s insights into genetic functioning, new drug compounds and therapies continue to be developed.

Key Facts

Discovery of eIF4E (eukaryotic initiation factor 4E), the protein which recognizes the messenger RNA cap structure and the recruits the ribosome to synthesize proteins.

Discovery of cap-structure and eIF4E-independent mRNA translation via IRES (Internal Ribosome Binding Site) on poliovirus mRNA. Other viral mRNAs, such as Hepatitis C Virus and cellular mRNAs under stress conditions employ a similar mechanism.

Discovery that eIF4E is an oncogene.

Discovery that the mechanistic Target of Rapamycin (mTOR) promote cell proliferation via eIF4E.

Discovery that eIF4E activity plays a key role in Fragile X Syndrome mouse model and that the disease can be treated with a safe anti-diabetes drug, metformin.

Authored more than 800 original articles, book chapters, and reviews.

Professional timeline

Impact on lives today

Basic research in genetics continues to yield promising health enhancing applications in the treatment of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Fragile X Syndrome and ALS, as well as diabetes and cancer.  Dr. Sonenberg’s ground breaking work in deciphering mechanisms of translational control, processes governing the rate of protein synthesis, provides the rationale for developing new drugs now in clinical trials.  Dr. Sonenberg’s discoveries advance our understanding of the mRNA translation function of IRES (Internal Ribosome Binding Site), which remains instrumental in developing the next generation of mRNA vaccines.           

nahum sonenberg


  • Sonenberg induction

    Nahum Sonenberg inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

  • Mcgill

    Named Gilman Cheney Chair in the Department of Biochemistry and the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Institute of McGill University

  • Named James McGill Professor

    This award recognizes a Nahum Sonenberg as an outstanding and original researcher of world-class caliber and an international leader in his field

  • Named Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada

  • Nahum Sonenberg, PhD, led the first study to show that control of mRNA translation plays a role in oncogenesis, as demonstrated by increasing elF4E levels

    Cancer, Understanding the body and disease process

  • Joins McGill university as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Biochemistry, McGill University

  • Nahum Sonenberg discovered a new protein, the mRNA cap-binding protein elF4E

    Understanding the body and disease process

  • Joins Aaron Shatkin as a post-doctoral fellow sponsored by a Chaim Weizmann fellowship to study the mRNA cap structure.

  • Weizmann Institute of Science

    Nahum Sonenberg started his scientific career as a PhD at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel investigating ribosomes and mRNA translation

    Understanding the body and disease process


What attracted me to the field was that the nature of proteins and everything that follows—our behaviour, our wellbeing, everything—is dictated by genes