Evans recognized for
gene-expression research

Published April 03 2017

Ronald M. Evans

“I am honored to be selected as the recipient of the 2017 Bert and Natalie Vallee Award in Biomedical Science. While research can become a world unto itself, the Vallee Award is a reminder that science and discovery has a very human side that touches us all.”


Ronald M. Evans, a professor and the director of the Gene Expression Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has won the 2017 Bert and Natalie Vallee Award in Biomedical Science given by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Evans won the award for his contributions to the field of nuclear hormone signaling and metabolism. His work has advanced significantly our understanding of the molecular processes that underlie obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes.

The award was established by the Vallee Foundation in 2012 to encourage creativity, originality and leadership in biomedical research. Both Bert and Natalie Vallee were prominent scientists who conveyed their passion for biomedical research through their work and teaching. The award honors scientists who have made outstanding international accomplishments in basic biomedical research.

Evans earned his B.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he also later obtained his Ph.D. He went on to do postdoctoral work with James E. Darnell at The Rockefeller University, where he worked on mechanisms of mRNA transcription and translation. In 1978, Evans joined the Salk Institute, where he continued his research on regulation of gene expression by fat-soluble hormones as well as studying basic cellular metabolism of sugars and fats. His work has informed much of our current understanding of the role of nuclear receptors in both normal and disease physiology.

Evans’ notable achievements include the cloning of the human glucocorticoid receptor. His group subsequently identified more than 50 members of the nuclear receptor superfamily and their ligands. These include PPARγ and PPARδ, which are critical for fat metabolism, the thyroid-hormone receptor, and the retinoid-X receptor. In addition, his work has provided a basis for differential regulation of gene expression by nuclear hormone receptors: Evans’ lab has demonstrated that subtle changes in cDNA of nuclear hormone receptors are sufficient to alter their respective ligands, co-activators and repressors, which in turn are capable of altering the set of downstream genes activated in conditions of normal physiology or disease.

“His achievements and contributions in research, albeit in a very different focus area, have inspired me and further taught me to think innovatively, insightfully and tirelessly,” wrote Vivian Tang, a graduate student at the University of Western Australia, in her nomination letter.

Work done by Evans has led to the establishment of principles of DNA recognition and receptor heterodimer formation and to the discovery of the genetic code for hormone response. Several new drugs for the treatment of diseases such as cancer, obesity, respiratory distress syndrome and diabetes have been developed using his discoveries.

Evans has been honored with several prestigious awards, including the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, the Gairdner International Award, the Alfred P. Sloan Medal and the Wolf Prize in Medicine. Evans was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1989 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1997. In 2005, he received the Grand Medaille, the highest honor of the French National Academy. Evans is also the March of Dimes chair in molecular and developmental biology and was awarded the March of Dimes prize in developmental biology in 2003.

Evans will receive his award during the 2017 ASBMB Annual Meeting in San Diego, where he will deliver an award lecture.

Updated 4/28/17: A previous version of this story wrongly attributed the identification of the vitamin-D receptor to Evans. The receptor was discovered and characterized by Mark Haussler and J. Wesley Pike beginning  in 1974–1975 and cloned in 19861987 by Donald McDonnell, Pike, Haussler and Bert O’Malley. In addition, the story said that Evans identified and characterized the human glucocorticoid receptor. Evans cloned that receptor.

Aditi Dubey Aditi Dubey is a postdoctoral associate at New York University.