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Pamela Jane Bjorkman NAS, AAAS (also spelled Pamela J. Björkman; born 1956,[1] Portland, Oregon[2]) is an American biochemist and molecular biologist. She is the David Baltimore Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).[3] Her research centers on the study of the three-dimensional structures of proteins related to Class I MHC, or Major Histocompatibility Complex, proteins of the immune system, and proteins involved in the immune responses to viruses. Bjorkman's goal is to improve current therapeutic applications.[4] Bjorkman is most well known as a pioneer in the field of structural biology.

Pamela J. Björkman
Pamela Jane Bjorkman

Alma materUniversity of Oregon (B.A., 1978)
Harvard University (Ph.D, 1984)
SpouseKai Zinn
Scientific career
Biological Engineering
InstitutionsCalifornia Institute of Technology
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Academic advisorsDon Wiley

Early life and education

HLA-A2 molecule; peptide antigen groove (starred) on top domain

Bjorkman was born in 1956 and grew up in Parkrose, a neighborhood in Portland, Oregon.[5] She became interested in science in high school and attended Willamette University for one year before transferring to the University of Oregon, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry.[6] As an undergraduate student, Bjorkman completed lab work with Larry Church at Reed College and O. Hayes Griffith at the University of Oregon.[5]

In 1978, she began her PhD in biochemistry at Harvard University, where she joined the lab of Don Craig Wiley, an American structural biologist whose lab utilized x-ray crystallography. Bjorkman received her PhD from Harvard in 1984.[5] She stayed on in Wiley's lab in a postdoctoral position where she ultimately solved the first crystal structure of an MHC protein - the HLA-A2 human histocompatibility antigen. This work was published in 1987,[7] first at 3.5Å resolution (PDB entry 1HLA) and then refined at 2.6Å (PDB entry 3HLA).[8]

Career and Research

Bjorkman continued her postdoctoral research at Stanford University in Mark Davis’ laboratory, studying the T-cell receptors that recognize antigens presented in the binding groove of MHC proteins. They developed a model explaining how this recognition mechanism works.[6] While at Stanford, Bjorkman married neurobiologist Kai Zinn, also currently a full professor at Caltech.[9] Bjorkman and Zinn have two children.[10]

In 1989, Bjorkman joined the Biology faculty at the California Institute of Technology as an assistant professor. She earned tenure as an associate professor in 1995 and was promoted to full professor in 1998. She was an HHMI investigator from 1989–2015. She became the David Baltimore Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering in 2018 and Merkin Institute professor in 2021.[4]

The Bjorkman Laboratory at Caltech focuses on investigating immune responses to viral pathogens with the ultimate goal of improving therapeutics and contributing to vaccine development. Her research focuses particularly on HIV-1, influenza, hepatitis C, and, since the Covid-19 pandemic, SARS-CoV-2.[4] During the pandemic, Bjorkman worked with Michel Nussenzweig, a frequent collaborator, to study coronavirus spike protein structures. This research has implications for vaccine development as new SARS-CoV-2 variants arise.[6]

The Bjorkman Lab utilizes x-ray crystallography, electron microscopy, electron tomography, cryo-electron microscopy, and fluorescent microscopy to study pathogen envelope glycoproteins and the molecular structures involved in the cell surface recognition of viral pathogens. Bjorkman’s research also focuses on engineering antibody reagents[5] and the development of mosaic nanoparticles for use in broadly effective vaccines.[6]

Bjorkman’s research has been published in journals like Nature and Science.[11]



  1. ^ a b "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 26, 2011.
  2. ^ "Caltech Professor Pamela Bjorkman Elected To National Academy of Sciences - Caltech".
  3. ^ Researchers have isolated a protein receptor in chickens responsible for transferring antibodies from mother to offspring. The Medical News. May 24, 2004.
  4. ^ a b c "Pamela J. Bjorkman - David Baltimore Professor of Biology and Biological Engineering; Merkin Institute Professor". 2023-12-14. Retrieved 2023-12-14.
  5. ^ a b c d "Oral history interview with Pamela Jane Bjorkman". Science History Institute Digital Collections. Retrieved 2023-12-14.
  6. ^ a b c d "Pamela J. Björkman". Greengard Prize. Retrieved 2023-12-14.
  7. ^ Bjorkman PJ, Saper MA, Samraoui B, Bennett WS, Strominger JL, Wiley DC (1987). "Structure of the human class I histocompatibility antigen, HLA-A2". Nature. 329 (6139): 506–512. Bibcode:1987Natur.329..506B. doi:10.1038/329506a0. PMID 3309677. S2CID 4373217.
  8. ^ Saper MA, Bjorkman PJ, Wiley DC (1991). "Refined structure of the human histocompatibility antigen HLA-A2 at 2.6 A resolution". Journal of Molecular Biology. 219 (2): 277–319. doi:10.1016/0022-2836(91)90567-p. PMID 2038058.
  9. ^ "Hard-Core Scientist/Athletes". Caltech Magazine. 2017-03-04. Retrieved 2023-12-13.
  10. ^ "Pamela Bjorkman Named Among Most Powerful Moms". California Institute of Technology. 2011-03-07. Retrieved 2023-12-13.
  11. ^ "Pamela J. Bjorkman". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. 2023-12-06. Retrieved 2023-12-14.
  12. ^ "Pamela Bjorkman".
  13. ^ "William B. Coley Award". Cancer Research Institute. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  14. ^ "Pamela J. Bjorkman". Gairdner Foundation. Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  15. ^ a b "Pamela Bjorkman, PhD - ASHI 2017". Archived from the original on 2017-11-07. Retrieved 2017-10-30.
  16. ^ "AAI-BD Biosciences Investigator Award Past Recipients". American Association of Immunologists.
  17. ^ "Prize Winners of the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize" (PDF). The Paul Ehrlich Foundation. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  18. ^ "Bjorkman, Pamela J." National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved July 26, 2011.
  19. ^ "Caltech Biologist Pamela BjorkmanWins Max Planck Research Prize". Caltech. California Institute of Technology. December 18, 2002. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  20. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2021-09-21.
  21. ^ "Awards - American Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics".
  22. ^ "NIH Director's Pioneer Award". NIH National Institutes of Health. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  23. ^ "Pamela Björkman wins the 2021 Pearl Meister Greengard Prize". Rockefeller University. Sep 16, 2021. Retrieved 17 October 2022.

External links