Jean-Pierre Changeux bigraphy, stories - Biologists

Jean-Pierre Changeux : biography

6 April 1936 -

Jean-Pierre Changeux (born 6 April 1936) is a French neuroscientist known for his research in several fields of biology, from the structure and function of proteins (with a focus on the allosteric proteins), to the early development of the nervous system up to cognitive functions. Although being famous in biological sciences for the MWC model, the identification and purification of the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor and the theory of epigenesis by synapse selection are also notable scientific achievements. Changeux is known by the non-scientific public for his ideas regarding the connection between mind and physical brain. As put forth in his book, Conversations on Mind, Matter and Mathematics, Changeux strongly supports the view that the nervous system is active rather than reactive and that interaction with the environment, rather than being instructive, results in the selection of preexisting internal representations.

Professional and non-scientific activities

Changeux has headed the National Advisory Committee on Bioethics in France from 1992 to 1998. He organised a scientific conference on the topic, that led to a book he edited, fondements naturel de l'ethique.

He is also on the Board of Scientific Governors of The Scripps Research Institute, an independent nonprofit institute focusing on biomedical research.

Changeux is passionate about art, and in particular graphical arts. Beside his academic career, he has organised several expositions: "De Nicolo Dell'Abate à Nicolas Poussin: Aux Sources Du Classicisme" (Meaux), "La Lumière au siècle des lumières" (Nancy), "Passions de l"âme" (Meaux) and co-organised (with Jean Clair) a major exposition on art and sciences in Paris "l'Ame au corps".

Changeux has also chaired the inter-ministry commission for the conservation of the French artistic heritage since 1989, and has been member of the scientific council of the International Agency of museums since 2007.

Books by Jean-Pierre Changeux

  • Changeux, Jean-Pierre. (2008) Du vrai, du beau, du bien : Une nouvelle approche neuronale
  • Changeux, Jean-Pierre; Stuart Edelstein. (2004) Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors: From Molecular Biology to Cognition
  • Changeux, Jean-Pierre. (2002) L'homme de verite (2004 The physiology of truth)
  • Changeux, Jean-Pierre; Paul Ricœur. (1998) Ce qui nous fait penser (2002 What Makes Us Think. A Neuroscientist and a Philosopher Argue About Ethics, Human Nature, and the Brain )
  • Changeux, Jean-Pierre. (1994) Raison et plaisir
  • Changeux, Jean-Pierre; Alain Connes. (1989) Matière à pensée (1995 Conversations on Mind, Matter and Mathematics)
  • Changeux, Jean-Pierre. (1983) L'homme neuronal (1985 Neuronal Man: The Biology of Mind)

Scientific achievements

All his scientific career, Changeux has been faithful to a handful of scientific questions, at molecular, cellular and brain levels. If one needs to seek a unifying theme to all of them, it is the conviction that selection is the basis of life processes, rather than instruction. While started as separate lines of investigations, all the research threads were tied in the recent decades within the study of allosteric mechanisms as a basis of for the involvement of nicotinic receptors in cognitive functions.


Diagram representing an allosteric transition of a protein between R and T states, stabilised by an Agonist, and Inhibitor and a Substrate. Adapted from Changeux and Edelstein (2004) Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors: From Molecular Biology to Cognition. During his PhD training, under the direction of Jacques Monod and Francois Jacob, Changeux studied the allosteric regulations of enzymes, that is the modulation of their activity by compounds different from their substrates.Changeux J.-P. (1961). The feedback control mechanism of biosynthetic L-threonine deaminase by L-isoleucine. Cold Spring Harbor. Symp. Quant. Biol. 26: 313-318.Changeux J.-P. (1963). Allosteric Interactions on biosynthetic L-theonine deaminase from E. coli K12. Cold Spring Harb Symp Quant Biol, 28: 497-504Monod J., Changeux J.-P., and Jacob. F. (1963). Allosteric proteins and cellular control systems. J. Mol. Biol. 6: 306-329 This work led to the development of the model of concerted transitions for allosteric proteins.Monod J., Wyman J., and Changeux J.-P. (1965). On the nature of allosteric transitions: a plausible model. J. Mol. Biol. 12: 88-118.Rubin M.M., Changeux J.-P. (1966). On the nature of allosteric transitions ; implications of non-exclusive ligand binding. J. Mol. Biol. 21: 265-274. The main ideas behind this theory are: 1) proteins can exist under various conformations in thermal equilibrium in the absence of regulators. The allosteric regulators merely shift the equilibrium between the conformations, stabilizing the ones for which they display the highest affinity, and 2) all the subunits of a symmetrical multimeric protein exist in the same conformation, the transition taking place in a concerted fashion. The resulting model explain the observed cooperativity without a progressive change of biophysical parameters. This conceptual framework is still the principal model used to explain the function of cooperative proteins such as hemoglobin.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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