May 29, 1998

Catecholamine research lands Spector national award

Catecholamine research lands Spector national award

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Sydney Spector, Ph.D.

A VUMC researcher has won the Julius Axelrod Award for many years of research in the field of catecholamines.

Dr. Sydney Spector, research professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology, received this year¹s Julius Axelrod Award at the annual dinner of the Catecholamine Club at the experimental biology meeting in San Francisco.

The award is given yearly to a catecholamine researcher who contributes a body of knowledge to the field over the course of their career. The award is named for Dr. Julius Axelrod, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work in the elucidation of the storage, release, and inactivation of catecholamine neurotransmitters ad the effect of psychoactive drugs.

"It is a great honor to receive this award. Even more so because it is from my peers in catecholamine research," said Spector.

After the award presentation, Spector elucidated his work on the biosynthesis of catecholamines and a rate-limiting step in that biosynthesis.

"We first began this research looking for a way to reduce the levels of neurotransmitters in the nervous system in order to dissect out the role the catecholamines play in various physiological systems," said Spector.

While studying these neurotransmitters Spector discovered that the rate-limiting step in their production is the enzyme by tyrosine hydroxylase. When you block that enzyme with the drug alpha methyl p-tyrosine you cause the reduction in the levels of dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinepherine

"We then sought compounds that might be therapeutically efficacious as the catecholamines are involved in a number of different," said Spector.

One of the compounds Spector studied was called monomine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. The enzyme is involved in the metabolism of catecholamines. MAO inhibitors inhibit the metabolism of catecholamines; consequently the concentrations of these biogenic amines increase in tissues.

"MAO inhibitors were initially introduced when someone gave them to tuberculosis patients and noted that the patients felt better. They assumed that their TB was getting better, but what was in fact happening was that the MAO inhibitor was producing a feeling of well being. So for a while they were used as antidepressants as well as antihypertensives," said Spector.

However side effects resulted in their being discontinued"

Due to better drugs with less side effects MAO inhibitors are still good anti-depressant drugs and are also being studied to control the tremors in patients with Parkinson¹s disease.

Spector has shown that the body contains and has the capacity to synthesis morphine, like the poppy plant. He currently is studying the possible physiological role the endogenous morphine plays and finds it has broader physiological function then as an analgesic. He is also currently studying the role as an endogenous anti-convulsent and its possible role on the immune system.