Otto Loewi

Photo from the Nobel foundation archive

Date of birth: 3 June, 1873. Frankfurt-on-the-Main, Germany.

Date of death: 25 December, 1961. New York, USA.

Nobel Prize awardee in Physiology or Medicine 1936.

Prize motivation: “for their discoveries relating to chemical transmission of nerve impulses.”

Biography

Otto Loewi initiated his studies at the University of Múnich and then, in 1891, moved to Strasbourg to study medicine. In 1896 he received his medical doctoral degree by the University of Strasbourg. At first, from 1897 to 1890, he initiated his work as an assistant doctor in the City Hospital in Frankfurt. His experience in the field, made him realize that he couldn’t deal with the scarcity of resources, and the precarious situation, and he decided that research in basic medical science could be a better option. He was especially interested in pharmacology. In 1898 Loewi became assistant of Professor Hans Horst Meyer at the University of Marburg. During his first years at Marburg he focused on metabolism. In 1900 he was named Lecturer. Two years later, he was invited as a guest researcher in Ernest Starling’s Laboratory, where he met Henry Dale, his dear friend and collaborator, whom he would share the Nobel prize three decades in advance. In 1903 he started his work in the University of Graz, in Austria, where two years later Loewi occupied the position of Associate Professor at Mayer’s laboratory. In 1909, he became Chair of Pharmacology in Graz, where he stayed at until 1938, when he was forced out of Austria. In 1921 Otto focused on his most important work, how vital organs respond to chemical and electrical stimulation.
In 1940 Loewi moved to the United States, and became a research professor at the New York University College of Medicine. In 1954 he joined the Royal Society.
Otto Loewi was married to Guida Goldschmiedt, they had four children.

Work

At the beginning of the 20th century, it was known that the nervous system’s signals are conveyed with the help of electrical impulses. However, it was unclear whether the signals were also conveyed by chemical substances. In 1921 Otto Loewi stimulated the heart of a frog with electrical impulses and had it pump a small amount of nutrient solution. When the fluid was transferred to another heart, it operated in a similar way. This provided proof that chemical substances convey nerve signals to organs. Otto Loewi verified the role of other substances, including acetylcholine, in this context.

In 1921, Loewi investigated how vital organs respond to chemical and electrical stimulation. He also established their relative dependence on epinephrine for proper function. Consequently, he learnt how nerve impulses are transmitted by chemical messengers. The first chemical neurotransmitter that he identified was acetylcholine.

Otto Loewi – Facts. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2019. Thu. 3 Jan 2019. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/1936/loewi/facts/&gt;

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