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Heads of Laboratories

Head shot of Jan Breslow
Jan L. Breslow, M.D.
Frederick Henry Leonhardt Professor
Senior Attending Physician
Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics and Metabolism

Atherosclerotic disease, the hardening of the arteries that underlies coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease, is responsible for about 40 percent of the deaths in the United States each year. It is a complex genetic disease involving multiple genes and important gene-environment interactions. Dr. Breslow’s laboratory explores the genetic basis of atherosclerosis, working to determine what makes certain individuals more or less susceptible to this disease, and pioneers novel therapies to fight it.

Dr. Breslow explores the genetic and environmental basis of atherosclerosis. Susceptibility to atherosclerosis is associated with abnormal levels of plasma lipoproteins, and his studies have focused on the apolipoproteins, which coat lipoprotein particles and determine their synthesis, processing, and breakdown.

Dr. Breslow’s laboratory cloned the genes for most of the apolipoproteins and, to study how these genes function in vivo, made induced mutant mouse models, including the first mouse model of atherosclerosis. This model was made by knocking out the gene for apolipoprotein E (apo E), which is found on the surface of several lipoproteins. By breeding the apo E knockout trait to different inbred genetic backgrounds, Dr. Breslow and his colleagues produced varying amounts of atherosclerosis and evidence for modifier genes. Using mouse crosses such as this, as well as quantitative trait locus mapping, the lab is identifying new genes and pathways involved in atherosclerosis susceptibility.

Dr. Breslow’s laboratory also has used gene expression microarrays to identify mouse liver genes whose expression is regulated by dietary cholesterol, work that uncovered a new subclass of genes linked to cholesterol transport within cells. Another cholesterol-regulated gene discovered by this approach codes for a protein called PCSK9. His laboratory showed that PCSK9 was capable of destroying the LDL receptor, which clears LDL from the bloodstream. Inhibitors of PCSK9 are now in phase III clinical trials for lowering LDL cholesterol levels and preventing coronary heart disease.

In a collaborative project with Rockefeller’s Jeffrey M. Friedman and investigators at Columbia, Harvard, MIT, and Yale, Dr. Breslow has studied an isolated population on the Micronesian island Kosrae. Through family data, clinical and laboratory tests, and determination of genetic markers in each adult Kosraen, the investigators have identified genes that predispose an individual to obesity, diabetes, abnormal lipid levels, and high blood pressure.

Other past accomplishments include discovering that human genetic variation in apo E resulted from three different apo E types. Specific patterns of inheritance of these apo E types are linked to LDL cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and even longevity. Dr. Breslow was the first to identify at the molecular level a human mutation causing atherosclerosis susceptibility, an apo A-I mutation that caused HDL deficiency and premature coronary heart disease. Finally, his research has shown that overproduction of apo CIII is a major determinant of high triglyceride levels and that triglyceride-lowering drugs called fibrates act mainly by decreasing apo CIII production.


A.B. in chemistry, 1963
M.A. in chemistry, 1964
Columbia University

M.D., 1968
Harvard Medical School


Internship in pediatrics, 1968–1969
Residency in pediatrics, 1969–1970
Boston Children’s Hospital


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 1970–1973


Instructor, 1973–1974
Assistant Professor, 1974–1980
Associate Professor, 1980–1983
Harvard Medical School

Assistant, 1973–1975
Associate, 1975–1981
Senior Associate, 1981–1983
Boston Children’s Hospital

Professor, 1984–
Director, Sackler Center for Biomedicine and Nutrition Research, 2014–
The Rockefeller University

Senior Physician, 1984–
The Rockefeller University Hospital


Basic Research Prize, American Heart Association, 1994

Bristol-Myers Squibb Award, 2000

Gold Heart Award, American Heart Association, 2001

New York City Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Science and Technology, 2005 

Lifetime Research Achievement Award, American Heart Association, 2010


National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Medicine


Rodriguez, J.M. et al. Altered expression of Raet1e, a major histocompatibility complex class 1-like molecule, underlies the atherosclerosis modifier locus Ath11 10b. Circ. Res. 113, 1054–1064 (2013).

Garbarino, J. et al. STARD4 knockdown in HepG2 cells disrupts cholesterol trafficking associated with the plasma membrane, ER, and ERC. J. Lipid Res. 53, 2716–2725 (2012).

Ponda, M.P. et al. The short-term effects of vitamin D repletion on cholesterol: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Arterioscler. Thromb. Vasc. Biol. 32, 2510–2515 (2012).

Kenny, E.E. et al. Increased power of mixed models facilitates association mapping of 10 loci for metabolic traits in an isolated population. Hum. Mol. Genet. 20, 827–839 (2011).

Burkhardt, R. et al. Trib1, a novel lipid and myocardial infarction associated gene, regulates hepatic lipogenesis and VLDL production in mice. J. Clin. Invest. 120, 4410–4414 (2010).

Dr. Breslow is a faculty member in the David Rockefeller Graduate Program and the Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program.