Furchgott, Robert F.

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FURCHGOTT, ROBERT F. (1916– ), U.S. pharmacologist and Nobel Laureate in medicine. Furchgott was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and received his B.S. in chemistry at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (1937), and his Ph.D. in biochemistry at Northwestern University, Chicago (1940). His first postdoctoral appointment was at Cornell University Medical School (1940–49), where he studied mediators of shock. He was assistant professor in the pharmacology department of Washington University, St Louis (1949–56), where he developed his lifelong interest in drug-receptor interactions, particularly in the adrenergic system which regulates blood vessel flow and smooth muscle tone. His experimental methods were largely based on rabbit aorta preparations. He was chairman of the new department of pharmacology at the State University of New York (now called the suny Health Science Center at Brooklyn; 1956–82), where his research work centered on the anomalous response of rabbit aortic preparations to drug and other stimuli, which often produced relaxation of the vessel instead of the expected contraction. This was attributable to the unsuspected release of a factor from the cells lining the internal surface of the preparation (called endothelial cells), which later proved to be nitric oxide (no). This discovery followed meticulous analysis of a serendipitous observation and led to the award of the Nobel Prize (1994, jointly with Louis J. Ignarro and Ferid Murad). Wider roles for no have now been identified, including defense against infection and blood pressure regulation. After retirement in 1989 Furchgott maintained active contacts in teaching and research with his former department and the pharmacology department of the University of Miami School of Medicine. His honors include the Gairdner Award (1991) and the Lasker Award for basic medical research.

[Michael Denman (2nd ed.)]