From frogs to brains
|Vittorio Erspamer in his laboratory (ca 1990)|
5-hydroxytriptamine (5-HT), also known as ‘serotonin’, is a biogenic amine that acts both as neurotransmitter in the brain and local hormone in peripheral tissues. It is involved in the regulation of pain, anxiety and depression. 5-HT was discovered in the 1940s by pharmacologist Vittorio Erspamer, while he was conducting a study on the chemical composition of the amphibian intestine. Erspamer determined the chemical structure of 5-HT, which he called ‘enteramine’, working in collaboration with chemist Biagio Asero.
In addition to 5-HT, Erspamer made seminal contributions to the discovery of neural peptides, a class of chemical signals that control a variety of physiological functions. The brain systems that use 5-HT and neuropeptides as neurotransmitters are the target of medicines that are widely used to treat depression, anxiety, pain and other pathologies.
A Nobel Prize for establishing the bases of pharmacotherapy
|Daniel Bovet during a lecture|
Daniel Bovet, a Swiss-born Italian pharmacologist, invented the sulfonamide class of antibacterial agents, one of the first to be introduced in therapy, and the antihistamines, which are still used to treat allergic reactions. These discoveries helped set the stage for contemporary pharmacotherapy and earned him the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1957.