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Nobel prize for medicine awarded for work on nitric oxide

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.317.7165.1031a (Published 17 October 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1031
  1. Marcus Müllner
  1. BMJ

    Three American pharmacologists have won this year's Nobel prize for medicine for their work on nitric oxide as a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system.

    Robert Furchgott, Ferid Murad, and Louis Ignarro discovered how nitric oxide could be produced by endothelial cells, penetrate membranes, and regulate the function of another cell. Current understanding of the vascular pathophysiology of coronary heart disease, septic shock, and adult respiratory distress syndrome is partly based on these findings. Their work has led to the development of several treatments based on the nitric oxide signalling pathway, including sildenafil citrate (Viagra).

    Robert Furchgott, a pharmacologist in New York, showed how endothelial cells produce a signal molecule that is a potent vasodilator. He called this molecule “endothelium derived relaxing factor” and his findings led to a quest to identify the factor. Ferid Murad, a pharmacologist now in Houston, analysed how nitroglycerin and vasodilating compounds act and discovered in 1977 that they release nitric oxide. Independently, Louis Ignarro and Robert Furchgott discovered that endothelium derived research factor was identical to nitric oxide

    Nitric oxide is also produced at sites of inflammatory processes. Because of its volatile nature it might have a role in both the detection and monitoring of chronic inflammatory diseases. Other even less known properties, such as tumour growth inhibition, as well as its role in learning and memory, are currently under investigation.

    A few days before the announcement of the Nobel prize, the Ig Nobel prize for medicine was awarded for the cautionary medical report, “A man who pricked his finger and smelled putrid for 5 years” (Lancet1996;348:1282). The Ig Nobel prize, awarded by the Annals of Improbable Research is for “those achievements which cannot or should not be reproduced”(http://www.improb.com).

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