Magazine article Science News

Medical Nobel Prize Says Yes to NO

Magazine article Science News

Medical Nobel Prize Says Yes to NO

Article excerpt

In the 1860s, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, an explosive using the volatile compound nitroglycerin. Yet, when a doctor prescribed nitroglycerin to treat his heart disease, Nobel refused the treatment, believing it unlikely to work. Ironically, research that has helped explain how nitroglycerin can ease chest pains has now earned one of the famous prizes established by Nobel's riches.

Robert E Furchgott of the State University of New York Health Science Center in Brooklyn, Fetid Murad of the University of Texas Medical School in Houston, and Louis J. Ignarro of the University of California School of Medicine in Los Angeles share the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for "discoveries concerning nitric oxide as a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system," the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm announced this week.

In 1977, Murad found that nitroglycerin and related drugs induce nitric oxide (NO) formation and that this gas relaxes the muscle cells that narrow and dilate blood vessels. Around 1980, Furchgott found that endothelial cells, which line the interior of blood vessels, produce a signaling molecule that causes nearby muscle cells to relax, thus regulating blood pressure.

Scientists didn't initially connect the two discoveries. Like other so-called free radicals, the highly reactive nitric oxide, a common air pollutant, was largely thought a destructive molecule not normally employed by the body. But as Furchgott and Ignarro, working independently, analyzed the nature of the endothelium's relaxing factor, the gas became a prime candidate. At a conference in 1986, each laid out a compelling case that nitric oxide was indeed the factor. …

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