A Nerve-Wracking Discovery

26 March 1997 7:00 pm

Today is the 86th birthday of Sir Bernard Katz, a German-born English physiologist who elucidated how nerve cells transmit signals. While it was known that neurons release acetylcholine at their terminal ends, Katz discovered while at University College, London, in the early 1950s that the release of this neurotransmitter occurs continuously and spontaneously, although at low levels when neurons are at rest. Moreover, he found that acetylcholine is released in discrete packets, later called vesicles.

In the late 1960s, Katz determined that the amount of acetylcholine in a vesicle was related to the electrical potential at the terminal of an axon--the long extension of a neuron that transmits the impulse. For these discoveries, Katz shared the 1970 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Julius Axelrod of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and Ulf von Euler of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

[Source: Emily McMurray, Ed., Notable Twentieth Century Scientists (Gale Research Inc., ITP, 1995).]

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