March 23, 2001

Murad guest speaker at Sutherland series

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Dr. Ferid Murad

An overflow crowd attended last week’s Earl W. Sutherland Lecture. Nobel laureate Dr. Ferid Murad, professor and chair of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology at the University of Texas-Houston Medical School, presented “Cellular Signaling with Nitric Oxide and Cyclic GMP.”

Murad was honored to speak in the lecture series named for his graduate school mentor, Sutherland, Nobel laureate and professor of Physiology at Vanderbilt from 1963 to 1973. Murad received his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Western Reserve University, where, under the guidance of Sutherland, he studied the action of the signaling molecule cyclic AMP. This early work ultimately led to his pioneering studies of nitric oxide and cyclic GMP.

Murad was a co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries of the roles of nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. During last week’s lecture, he recounted the experiments that led to the conclusion that nitroglycerin, a long-used treatment for angina and heart disease, works by releasing the gaseous signaling molecule nitric oxide.

The possibility that a short-lived gas like nitric oxide could serve as a physiological signal was initially met with skepticism in the scientific community, Murad said. It was ultimately realized, however, that the nitric oxide derived from drugs like nitroglycerin mimics nitric oxide produced naturally in almost every tissue in the body.

Nitric oxide works by increasing cellular levels of cyclic GMP, which in turn promotes lowering of blood pressure and dilation of airways.

Subsequent studies of nitric oxide and cyclic GMP action have demonstrated that this signaling mechanism serves important roles not only in the cardiovascular system, but also in the nervous and immune systems. Murad is currently exploring novel mechanisms that nitric oxide may utilize in regulating cellular metabolism.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, Murad received the Ciba Award in 1988 and the Lasker Award in 1996. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine.

The Earl W. Sutherland Lecture is sponsored by the department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics to highlight important advances in cell signaling.