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David D. Sabatini, M.D., Ph. D. 

New York University School of Medicine | Frederick L. Ehrman

Professor Emeritus of Cell Biology


David Sabatini received his medical degree from the University of Litoral in Rosario, Argentina, and began his research career at the University of Buenos Aires in 1956 in the laboratory of Eduardo De Robertis, a founder of modern cell biology. In 1961, as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow at Yale University, he introduced glutaraldehyde as a new fixative for electron microscopy and cytochemistry. Soon thereafter, at The Rockefeller University, he began his studies on protein trafficking with his discovery of the co-translational translocation and vectorial discharge of nascent polypeptides into and across the endoplasmic reticulum membrane. This work led to his 1971 formulation, with Günter Blobel, of the “signal hypothesis,” which explained how specific messenger RNAs are selected for translation on membrane-bound ribosomes.

Sabatini joined the New York University School of Medicine in 1972 to become professor and chair of the Department of Cell Biology, where he assembled a group that focused on the study of membrane and organelle biogenesis. In the late 1970s, in collaboration with Marcelino Cereijido, he introduced the now widely adopted MDCK cell culture system for the study of epithelial cell polarity and together with Enrique Rodriguez-Boulan reported the landmark discovery of the asymmetric budding of specific enveloped viruses from the different surfaces of polarized epithelial cells.


Sabatini is a member of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences and of Medicine, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, a member of the American Philosophical Society, and a foreign associate of the French Academy of Sciences. In 1986, together with Blobel, he received the E.B. Wilson Medal of the American Society of Cell Biology, of which he was president in 1978-79. He was awarded the Charles Leopold Mayer Prize (1986) and the Grand Médaille d’Or (2003) by the French Academy of Sciences, and in 2006 he was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur.

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