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Otto Loewi (1873–1961)
  1. L F Haas

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    Otto Loewi, the son of a wine merchant, was born in Frankfurt-am-Main. As a young man he wished to study art history but, persuaded by his parents, he studied medicine at the Universities of Strasbourg and Munich. Loewi held professorships in physiology and pharmacology at Vienna and Graz Universities (1909–1938). Before graduation he conducted pharmacological research into the effects of drugs on the isolated heart of the frog. Later, dispirited by clinical work in a tuberculosis ward he returned to research with the eminent pharmacologist HH Meyer in Marburg. None of his early work was directly concerned with chemical neurotransmission, for which he later received the Nobel Prize. Between 1921 and 1926 Otto Loewi and his coworkers showed that stimulation of the parasympathetic nerves in a perfused frogs heart resulted in the appearance of a substance that inhibited the action of a second heart receiving the perfused fluid from the first heart. Similar stimulation of the sympathetic nerves of the first heart promoted its beating. Again transfer of the perfused solution induced the same changes in the second heart. His later work on establishing the identities of the vagus transmitter (vagusstoff) and the sympathetic transmitter (acceleranstoff) provided convincing evidence of chemical mediation of nerve impulses. In 1926 Loewi and his collaborator E Navratil suggested that vagusstoff was acetylcholine. In 1929 Henry Dale and Harold Dudley isolated acetylcholine from animal tissue. Otto Loewi and Henry Dale shared the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1936. Work on identifying acceleranstoff proceeded more slowly. Loewi left Austria after the Nazi invasion in 1938, but his wife was detained in Austria until his family assets, including his Nobel Prize money, had been transferred to Nazi banks. He eventually settled in the US. In 1940 he accepted a research professorship at the New York University school of medicine and in 1946 became an American citizen. In 1973, the centenary of his birth, Austria honoured him on a stamp (Stanley Gibbons no 1659, Scott no 942).