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Ann Nutr Metab. 2012;61(3):246-53. doi: 10.1159/000343115. Epub 2012 Nov 26.

The discovery of niacin, biotin, and pantothenic acid.

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Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Great Lakes VA Healthcare System, Tomah, WI 54660, USA. Douglas.Lanska @


The aim was to describe the discovery of niacin, biotin, and pantothenic acid. By the 1920s, it became apparent that 'water-soluble B' (vitamin B) is not a single substance. In particular, fresh yeast could prevent both beriberi and pellagra, but the 'antipolyneuritis factor' in yeast is thermolabile, while the antipellagra factor is heat stable, suggesting that there are at least two water-soluble vitamins. Various terms were proposed for these water-soluble factors, but vitamins B(1) and B(2) were most widely used to refer to the thermolabile and heat-stable factors, respectively. Although vitamin B(1) proved to be a single chemical substance (thiamin), vitamin B(2) was ultimately found to be a complex of several chemically unrelated heat-stable factors, including niacin, biotin, and pantothenic acid. Recognition that niacin is a vitamin in the early 20th century resulted from efforts to understand and treat a widespread human disease - pellagra. American epidemiologist and US Public Health Service officer Joseph Goldberger (1874-1929) had been instrumental to elucidating the nutritional basis for pellagra. Goldberger conducted a classic series of observational and experimental studies in humans, combined with an extensive series of experiments with an animal model of the condition (black tongue in dogs). In contrast, recognition that biotin and pantothenic acid are vitamins occurred somewhat later as a result of efforts to understand microbial growth factors. The metabolic roles in humans of these latter substances were ultimately elucidated by human experiments using particular toxins and by studies of rare inborn errors of metabolism. Symptomatic nutritional deficiencies of biotin and pantothenic acid were, and continue to be, rare.

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