Toshio Narahashi

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 08 July 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f4213
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

The father of cellular neuropharmacology

“At the conclusion of Ian Fleming’s novel From Russia, With Love, we see Agent 007, James Bond, crumple to the floor after a minute wound from a pinprick is delivered, of course by a beautiful woman …” Those are the opening words of a key paper 1 coauthored in 1967 by Toshio Narahashi, a pioneering researcher who had a playful sense of humour.

In the paper, titled Tetrodotoxin’s highly selective blockage of an ionic channel, Narahashi explains that Bond, James Bond, was poisoned with tetrodotoxin from pufferfish, a gourmet delicacy in Asia that can cause death to the eater if not prepared properly.

Narahashi, with coauthor John W Moore, discovered the potent and specific blocking action of tetrodotoxin on the sodium ion channels, which in the nervous system are important target sites for a variety of therapeutic drugs and toxicants. Narahashi described tetrodotoxin as “an exquisitely sharp electrophysiological scalpel.”

“This was a new concept, that toxins or chemical compounds could be used to modify the function of the ion channels operating in the biological membranes,” …

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