Tasuku Honjo

Tasuku Honjo (本庶 佑, Honjo Tasuku, born January 27, 1942)[1] is a Japanese physician-scientist and immunologist. He shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology and is best known for his identification of programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1).[2] He is also known for his molecular identification of cytokines: IL-4 and IL-5,[3] as well as the discovery of activation-induced cytidine deaminase (AID) that is essential for class switch recombination and somatic hypermutation.[4]

Tasuku Honjo
Native name
本庶 佑
Born (1942-01-27) 27 January 1942
EducationKyoto University (BS, MD, PhD)
Known forClass switch recombination
IL-4, IL-5, AID
Cancer immunotherapy
AwardsImperial Prize (1996)
Koch Prize (2012)
Order of Culture (2013)
Tang Prize (2014)
Kyoto Prize (2016)
Alpert Prize (2017)
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (2018)
Scientific career
FieldsMolecular Immunology
InstitutionsKyoto University
Doctoral advisorYasutomi Nishizuka
Osamu Hayaishi
Notable studentsShizuo Akira

He was elected as a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences, USA (2001), as a member of German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina (2003), and also as a member of the Japan Academy (2005).

In 2018, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with James P. Allison.[5] He and Allison together had won the 2014 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science for the same achievement.[6]

Life and career

Honjo was born in Kyoto in 1942. He completed his M.D. degree in 1966 from the Faculty of Medicine, Kyoto University, where in 1975 he received his Ph.D. degree in Medical Chemistry under the supervision of Yasutomi Nishizuka and Osamu Hayaishi.[7]

Honjo was a visiting fellow at the Department of Embryology, Carnegie Institution of Washington, from 1971 to 1973. He then moved to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, where he studied the genetic basis for the immune response at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development as a fellow between 1973 and 1977, followed by many years as an NIH Fogarty Scholar in Residence starting in 1992. During part of this time, Honjo also was an assistant professor at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Tokyo, between 1974 and 1979; a professor in the Department of Genetics, Osaka University School of Medicine, between 1979 and 1984; and professor in the Department of Medical Chemistry, Kyoto University Faculty of Medicine, from 1984 to 2005. Since 2005 Honjo has been a professor in Department of Immunology and Genomic Medicine, Kyoto University Faculty of Medicine.[7] He was the President of Shizuoka Prefecture Public University Corporation from 2012 to 2017.

He is a member of Japanese Society for Immunology and served as its President between 1999 and 2000. Honjo is also an honorary member of American Association of Immunologists.[8] In 2017 he became Deputy Director-General and Distinguished Professor of Kyoto University Institute for Advanced Study (KUIAS).[9]


Honjo has established the basic conceptual framework of class switch recombination.[4] He presented a model explaining antibody gene rearrangement in class switch and, between 1980 and 1982, verified its validity by elucidating its DNA structure.[10] He succeeded in cDNA clonings of IL-4[11] and IL-5[12] cytokines involved in class switching and IL-2 receptor alpha chain in 1986, and went on further to discover AID[13] in 2000, demonstrating its importance in class switch recombination and somatic hypermutation.

In 1992, Honjo first identified PD-1 as an inducible gene on activated T-lymphocytes, and this discovery significantly contributed to the establishment of cancer immunotherapy principle by PD-1 blockade.[14]


Honjo has received several awards and honors in his life. In 2016, he won the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences for "Discovery of the Mechanism Responsible for the Functional Diversification of Antibodies, Immunoregulatory Molecules and Clinical Applications of PD-1". In 2018, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with American immunologist James P. Allison. They previously also shared the Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science in 2014.[5][9]

The other major awards and honors received by Honjo are:


  1. "Tasuku Honjo – Facts – 2018". NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB. 1 October 2018. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  2. Ishida, Y.; Agata, Y.; Shibahara, K.; Honjo, T. (1992). "Induced expression of PD-1, a novel member of the immunoglobulin gene superfamily, upon programmed cell death". The EMBO Journal. Wiley. 11 (11): 3887–3895. doi:10.1002/j.1460-2075.1992.tb05481.x. ISSN 0261-4189. PMC 556898. PMID 1396582.
  3. Kumanogoh, Atsushi; Ogata, Masato (2010-03-25). "The study of cytokines by Japanese researchers: a historical perspective". International Immunology. 22 (5): 341–345. doi:10.1093/intimm/dxq022. ISSN 0953-8178. PMID 20338911. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  4. "Robert Koch Stiftung - Christine Goffinet". www.robert-koch-stiftung.de.
  5. Hannah, Devlin. "James P Allison and Tasuku Honjo win Nobel prize for medicine". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  6. "2014 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science". Archived from the original on 2017-10-20. Retrieved 2016-06-18.
  7. ""免疫のしくみに魅せられて-何ごとにも主体的に挑む" (in Japanese).
  8. "AAI Members Awarded the 2018 Nobel Prizein Physiology or Medicine". The American Association of Immunologists. Retrieved October 4, 2018.
  9. "Tasuku Honjo". kyotoprize.org. Inamori Foundation. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  10. Shimizu, Akira; Takahashi, Naoki; Yaoita, Yoshio; Honjo, Tasuku (1982). "Organization of the constant-region gene family of the mouse immunoglobulin heavy chain". Cell. Elsevier BV. 28 (3): 499–506. doi:10.1016/0092-8674(82)90204-5. ISSN 0092-8674. PMID 6804095.
  11. Noma, Yoshihiko; Sideras, Paschalis; Naito, Takayuki; Bergstedt-Lindquist, Susanne; Azuma, Chihiro; et al. (1986). "Cloning of cDNA encoding the murine IgG1 induction factor by a novel strategy using SP6 promoter". Nature. Springer Nature. 319 (6055): 640–646. doi:10.1038/319640a0. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 3005865.
  12. Kinashi, Tatsuo; Harada, Nobuyuki; Severinson, Eva; Tanabe, Toshizumi; Sideras, Paschalis; et al. (1986). "Cloning of complementary DNA encoding T-cell replacing factor and identity with B-cell growth factor II". Nature. Springer Nature. 324 (6092): 70–73. doi:10.1038/324070a0. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 3024009.
  13. Muramatsu, Masamichi; Kinoshita, Kazuo; Fagarasan, Sidonia; Yamada, Shuichi; Shinkai, Yoichi; Honjo, Tasuku (2000). "Class Switch Recombination and Hypermutation Require Activation-Induced Cytidine Deaminase (AID), a Potential RNA Editing Enzyme". Cell. Elsevier BV. 102 (5): 553–563. doi:10.1016/s0092-8674(00)00078-7. ISSN 0092-8674. PMID 11007474.
  14. "The Keio Medical Science Prize Laureates 2016". Ms-fund.keio.ac.jp. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  15. "The Asahi Prize [Fiscal 1981]". The Asahi Shimbun Company. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  16. "Tasuko Hanjo". Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  17. "The Imperial Prize,Japan Academy Prize,Duke of Edinburgh Prize Recipients". japan-acad.go.jp. The Japan Academy. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  18. "Person of Cultural Merit". osaka-u.ac.jp. Osaka University. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  19. "Kyoto Prize, Inamori Foundation". Kyoto Prize, Inamori Foundation. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  20. "The 2016 Keio Medical Science Prize Laureate". ms-fund.keio.ac.jp. Keio University. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  21. "2016 Fudan-Zhongzhi Science Award Announcement". fdsif.fudan.edu.cn. Fudan Science and Innovation Forum. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  22. "Hall of Citation Laureates". clarivate.com. Clarivate Analytics. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  23. "Warren Alpert Foundation Prize Recipients". warrenalpert.org. Warren Alpert Foundation. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  24. "All Nobel Prizes". Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 3 October 2018.
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