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Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2000 Apr;27(4):313-9.

A short history of nitroglycerine and nitric oxide in pharmacology and physiology.

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School of Life Sciences, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia.


1. Nitroglycerine (NG) was discovered in 1847 by Ascanio Sobrero in Turin, following work with Theophile-Jules Pelouze. Sobrero first noted the 'violent headache' produced by minute quantities of NG on the tongue. 2. Constantin Hering, in 1849, tested NG in healthy volunteers, observing that headache was caused with 'such precision'. Hering pursued NG ('glonoine') as a homeopathic remedy for headache, believing that its use fell within the doctrine of 'like cures like'. 3. Alfred Nobel joined Pelouze in 1851 and recognized the potential of NG. He began manufacturing NG in Sweden, overcoming handling problems with his patent detonator. Nobel suffered acutely from angina and was later to refuse NG as a treatment. 4. During the mid-19th century, scientists in Britain took an interest in the newly discovered amyl nitrite, recognized as a powerful vasodilator. Lauder Brunton, the father of modern pharmacology, used the compound to relieve angina in 1867, noting the pharmacological resistance to repeated doses. 5. William Murrell first used NG for angina in 1876, although NG entered the British Pharmacopoeia as a remedy for hypertension. William Martindale, the pharmaceutical chemist, prepared '...a more stable and portable preparation': 1/100th of a grain in chocolate. 6. In the early 20th century, scientists worked on in vitro actions of nitrate-containing compounds although little progress was made towards understanding the cellular mode of action. 7. The NG industry flourished from 1900, exposing workers to high levels of organic nitrites; the phenomena of nitrate tolerance was recognized by the onset of 'Monday disease' and of nitrate-withdrawal/overcompensation by 'Sunday Heart Attacks'. 8. Ferid Murad discovered the release of nitric oxide (NO) from NG and its action on vascular smooth muscle (in 1977). Robert Furchgott and John Zawadski recognized the importance of the endothelium in acetylcholine-induced vasorelaxation (in 1980) and Louis Ignarro and Salvador Moncada identified endothelial-derived relaxing factor (EDRF) as NO (in 1987). 9. Glycerol trinitrate remains the treatment of choice for relieving angina; other organic esters and inorganic nitrates are also used, but the rapid action of NG and its established efficacy make it the mainstay of angina pectoris relief.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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