Max E. Gottesman, PhD

  • Charles H. Revson Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and Microbiology (in the Institute of Cancer Research);
Profile Headshot


I was born in 1935 in New York City and grew up there. I have a degree in Philosophy from Swarthmore College and an MD and PhD from Yale University. After a post doc at Rockefeller University, I went to the National Institutes of Health. Except for a year abroad in Paris at the Pasteur Institute, I remained at NIH for 19 years before moving to Columbia University in 1985 to assume the Directorship of the Institute of Cancer research. In addition to writing poetry, I do laboratory research on the genetics of viruses and cancer cells.

Academic Appointments

  • Charles H. Revson Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and Microbiology (in the Institute of Cancer Research);

Administrative Titles

  • Director, Institute for Cancer Research


  • French

Credentials & Experience

Education & Training

  • BA, 1956 Philosophy, Swarthmore College
  • MD, 1960 Yale Univ. School of Medicine
  • 1964 Postdoc: Phage genetics, National Institutes of Health
  • PhD, 1965 Pharmacology, Yale University

Honors & Awards

1956 Phi Beta Kappa

1964-1966 Jane Coffin Child Fund Fellow

1971 Chairman, Gordon Conference, Biol. Reg. Mech.

1974-1976 Editorial Advisory Board of Virology

1976-Present Editor, Journal of Molecular Biology

1982 Meritorious Executive Award, NCI

1991 Division M Lecturer, Amer. Soc. Micro

1991-96 NIH Board of Scientific Counselors

1991-97 Chairman, Scientific Counsel of International Laboratory of Biophysics and Genetics

1994-96 Panel, Human Frontier Scientific Program Review Committee

1996-97 NCI Prevention Working Group

1996 Docteur Honoris Causa-Institut National des Science Appliquèes de Lyon, France

1996 Honorary Doctorate, Peking Union Medical College, Beijing, China

2010 Fellow, American Academy of Microbiology

2011 Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

2016 Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science


My laboratory investigates the mechanism of transcription termination in E. coli and how termination affects other cellular processes. Blocking the release of a stalled transcription elongation complex leads to clashes with the replisome and the formation of lethal DNA double-strand breaks. Coupling of transcription to translation suppresses stalling. NusG links RNA polymerase and the first translating ribosome. The linkage is broken by tmRNA, which releases ribosomes at rare codons. The interactions among ribosomes, RNA polymerase and DNA polymerase are being investigated using genetic and biochemical approaches. In addition, the laboratory is probing the structure of the ribosome-NusG-RNA polymerase complex (in collaboration with Dr. J. Frank).

Phage HK022 Nun protein has been an active area of research. We have just begun to understand how Nun interacts with E. coli RNAP to arrest transcription. Nun, however, is full of surprises, and continues to amaze.

We also have a long-standing interest in repair of DNA damage. With Dr. J. Gautier, we defined a replication-independent DNA inter-strand crosslink (ICL) repair pathway in Xenopus oocyte extracts. We have now established an E. coli based system that monitors transcription-coupled repair of ICLs.

Research Interests

  • Hormonal regulation of gene expression
  • phage HK022 Nun transcription termination protein
  • Regulation of transcription termination in E. coli and bacteriophage
  • Repair of DNA damage in prokaryotes and eukaryotes

Selected Publications

1. Kim, H.C. and Gottesman, M.E.: (2004) Transcription Termination by Phage HK022 Nun Is Facilitated by C-terminal Lysine Residues. J. Biol. Chem 279: 13412-7

2. Feliciello, A., Gottesman, M.E., and Avvedimento, E.V. : (2005) cAMP-PKA signaling to the mitochondria: protein scaffolds, mRNA and phosphatases. Cellular Signalling 17: 279-287

3. Kim, H.C., Washburn, R.S, and Gottesman M.E. : (2006) Role of E. coli NusA in Phage HK022 Nun-mediated Transcription Termination. J. Mol. Biol 359: 10-12

4. Björn M. Burmann B, Schweimer K, Luo X, Wahl MC, Stitt BL Gottesman ME, and Rösch P: (2010) A NusG:NusE complex links transcription and translation. Science (in press)