Nitric oxide as a signalling molecule in the cardiovascular system
In 1998, Robert F. Furchgott, Louis J. Ignarro and Ferid Murad were nitric oxide – acts as an important signalling molecule in our bodies.
Doctors had been prescribing nitrogylcerin for chest pain and heart problems since the 19th Century, but its effect on patients’ health was poorly understood. In 1977, Ferid Murad used rats to study nitroglycerin’s action and found that it released nitric oxide which relaxed smooth muscle cells.
In 1980, Robert F. Furchgott investigated rat and rabbit tissue and found that certain drugs affected blood vessels differently when the endothelial cells that line their interiors were missing or damaged. He hypothesised that endothelial cells emit a signal that influences the actions of other cells, but did not know what form this signal might take. In 1986, both Robert F. Furchgott and Louis J. Ignarro found that the signal was nitric oxide, showing for the first time that a gas can act as a signalling molecule in animals.
Nitric oxide has since been found to be important in the cardiovascular and nervous systems, and for fighting infections. This knowledge has been utilised in the development of several medicines.