Ott, Isaac

views updated


(b. Northampton County, Pennsylvania, 30 November 1847; d. Easton, Pennsylvania, 1 January 1916)


Discoverer of the heat-regulating center of the brain in 1887, Ott received the B.A. and M.A. from Lafayette College and the M.D. from the University of Pennsylvannia in 1869, with a dissertation on typhoid fever. Following an internship at St. Mary’s Hospital in Philadelphia, he did postgraduate study at Leipzig, Würzburg, and Berlin. In 1873 he was appointed demonstrator of experimental physiology at the University of Pennsylvania, where he organized a physiological laboratory and lectured on physiology until 1878. He became a fellow in biology at the Johns Hopkins University in 1879, lecturing the same year in physiology at the Medico-Chirurgical College of Philadelphia while it was still a society. In 1894 Ott was appointed professor of physiology at the Medico-Chirurgical College, filling the chair until the college merged with the University of Pennsylvania about the time of his death in 1916. He served as dean in 1895, and each year he selected five of his most promising students as members of the American Physiological Society.

In 1876 Ott settled at Easton. He wrote more than fifty scientific papers, the last one in 1910 on internal secretions, and wrote the book The Action of Medicines (1878).

Ott performed experiments demonstrating that there are areas in the brain which exert considerable control over the body temperature and pinpointed the center for temperature regulation in the region of the corpora striata. From his pioneering work in neurophysiological technique have come a multitude of studies. He also devoted considerable study to the physiological action of drugs and discovered the path and decussation of the sudorific, sphincterinhibitory and thermo-inhibitory fibers in the spinal cord and the innervation of the sphincters.

He served as president of the American Neurological Association. In his opening address as president of the Section on Physiology at the first Pan American Medical Congress in 1895, he reviewed work in physiology in the United States and noted that research required special commitment because it was exhausting financially as well as physically.


I. Original Works. Ott’s article “ The Relation of the Nervous System to the Temperature of the Body,” in Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, 11 (1884), 141–152, is item 1416 in F. H. Garrison and L. T. Morton, A Medical Bibliography (London, 1943), with a statement that Ott wrote important papers on the nervous regulation of body temperature. His papers on the heat center in the brain and on the thermo-inhibitory apparatus were published in the same journal, 14 (1887), 150–162, 428–438; and 15 (1888), 85–104. His book Fever: Its Thermotaxis and Metabolism (New York, 1914) is listed in Garrison and Morton as item 2115. He also published Cocaine, Veratria and Gelsemium: Toxicological Studies (Philadelphia, 1874). His works on lobelia, thebaine, lycotomia, poisonous mushrooms, ethyl bromide, Jamaica dogwood, loco weed, lily of the valley, rattlesnake venom, copperhead snake venom, absinthism epilepsy, antipyretics, heroin, and adrenalin are listed in the Surgeon General’s Catalogue. Further writings are Textbook of Physiology (Philadelphia, 1904; 2nd ed., 1907; 3rd ed., 1909; 4th ed., 1913); The Parathyroid Glandules From a Physiological and Pathological Standpoint (Philadelphia, 1910); Internal Secretions From a Physiological and Therapeutical Standpoint (Easton, Pa., 1910); and Contributions From the Physiological Laboratory of the Medico-Chirurgical College of Philadelphia (Philladelphia, 1914), written with John C. Scott.

II. Secondary Literature. A good biographical sketch is presented in Howard A. Kelly and Walter L. Burrage, eds., American Medical Biographies (Baltimore, 1920), 869. There is a contemporary sketch by W. B. Atkinson in Physicians and Surgeons of the United States (Philadelphia, 1878), 172–173. Ott’s photograph is reproduced on plate 69, facing p. 343, accompanied by a sketch and an excerpt from his classic article “The Heat-Center in the Brain” (in Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, 14 [1887], 150–162), in John F. Fulton and Leonard G. Wilson, Selected Readings in the History of Physiology, 2nd ed. (Springfield, Ill., 1966), 337. There is a biographical sketch in Appleton’s Cyclopaedia of American Biography, IV (1888), 608; and obituaries in Journal of the American Medical Association, 26 (1916), 206; by Joseph McFarland, in Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, 43 (1916), 201; in Medical Record, 89 (1916), 72; and in New York Medical Journal, 103 (1916), 80 G. Clark, Magoun, and Ranson refer to his work in “Hypothalamic Regulation of Body Temperature,” in Journal of Neurophysiology, 2 (1939), 61–80.

Samuel X. Radbill