Louis J. Ignarro Biography (1941-)


Ignarro, together with fellow American pharmacologists Robert Furchgott and Ferid Murad, received the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discoveries related to the role of nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system.

Not to be confused with nitrous oxide (a gas used in anesthesia), nitric oxide is a colorless, odorless gas that, thanks to initial work by these three Nobel laureates and a flurry of subsequent research by others, now has widespread potential including the treatment of heart disease, shock, cancer, impotence, and pulmonary hypertension--a potentially fatal condition in premature infants. In 1994, the respected journal Science declared nitric oxide asits "molecule of the year."

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Ignarro studied pharmacy at Columbia University and then obtained a Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Minnesota. Heserved as professor of pharmacology at Tulane University in New Orleans from1979 to 1985, when he joined the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

There, Ignarro is known as an extraordinary teacher. By 1998, he had received10 consecutive Golden Apple Awards, given by UCLA medical students annuallyto the best teacher in the basic sciences.

Ignarro started his research into nitric oxide in 1978. Earlier, Ferid Muradhad postulated that nitric oxide and other nitrogen-containing compounds might be produced by one cell, travel through membranes, and then regulate the function of other cells. At the time, this was an entirely new concept for signaling in biological systems.

Then, in 1980. Robert Furchgott discovered a substance in the endothelium (athin layer of flattened cells lining the inner surface of blood vessels) thatcaused relaxation in smooth muscle. Furchgott called this substance endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF).

After several years of research, Ignarro discovered that Furchgott's EDRF was, in reality, nitric oxide operating as Murid had suggested. Ignarro announced this important development in 1986 at a scientific conference at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. At the same meeting, Furchgott announced he had independently confirmed that EDRF was nitric oxide. This was the first timeanyone had demonstrated that a gas could act as a signal molecule in the body, and it prompted a flood of research into nitric oxide worldwide.

Nitric oxide is now known to play a key role in many biological functions including inflammation, blood flow regulation, cell growth, smooth muscle relaxation, and preserving memory. Each year, thousands of research papers are written about the molecule, compared to just a dozen papers in published in 1980.Ignarro is editor-in-chief of the journal Nitric Oxide, Biology and Chemistry, and a founder of the Nitric Oxide Society.

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