Australian immunologist and pathologist who with Swiss immunologist and pathologist Rolf Zinkernagel was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1996 for their discovery of how virus-infected cells are recognized by the cellular immune system.
Doherty and Zinkernagel were studying the cellular immune response in mice, which had been infected with a virus that caused meningitis. The immune response system uses white blood cells called lymphocytes to destroy foreign organisms such as viruses. The researchers removed T lymphocytes (T cells) and virus-infected cells from different mice and mixed them together to examine the strength of the immune response. They were surprised to find that the T cells would only kill virus-infected cells of mice that were of the same genetic strain. They would not destroy infected cells taken from a different strain of mice.
The cells of an organism have parts that allow the immune system to recognize them as belonging to that organism. These are known as major histocompatability antigens. Although their existence had been known, what Doherty and his colleague had discovered was that the killer T cells would not destroy virus-infected cells if they did not also recognize the antigens of the same type as the organism that created the T cells. The crucial concept of a simultaneous recognition mechanism in the immune system had not been considered before this study. Their discovery is highly relevant to clinical medicine and has lead to a better understanding of the autoimmune reactions in diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and inflammatory diseases.
Doherty was born in Australia. He received his PhD in pathology from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1970. 1n 1972, Doherty obtained a position as a research fellow at the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University, Canberra. In 1975, he became an associate professor at the Wistar Institute, Philadelphia, USA. In 1982 he became professor and head of the department of experimental pathology at the John Curtin School of Medical Research. Doherty was appointed chair of the Department of Immunology, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, USA, in 1988. He became adjunct professor at the departments of pathology and paediatrics, University of Tennessee, in 1992.