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J Biol Chem. 2019 Feb 8;294(6):1779-1793. doi: 10.1074/jbc.X118.006184.

A seven-step plan for becoming a moderately rich and famous biochemist.

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From the Department of Biological Chemistry, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-0606


Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids were identified as essential nutrients in 1930. Their essentiality is largely due to their function as prostaglandin (PG) precursors. I spent most of my career in biochemistry determining how PG biosynthesis is regulated. PGs are lipid mediators formed in response to certain circulating hormones and cytokines. PGs act near their sites of synthesis to signal neighboring cells to coordinate their responses (e.g. when platelets interact with blood vessels). The committed step in PG synthesis is the conversion of a 20-carbon omega-6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid to prostaglandin endoperoxide H2 (PGH2). Depending on the tissue and the hormone or cytokine stimulus, this reaction is catalyzed by either cyclooxygenase-1 or cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-1 or COX-2). Once formed, PGH2 is converted, again depending on the context, to one of several downstream PG subtypes that act via specific G protein-coupled receptors. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g. aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen) block PG synthesis by inhibiting COX-1 and COX-2. COX-2 is also inhibited by COX-2-selective inhibitors. Inhibition of COX-1 by low-dose aspirin prevents thrombosis. COX-2 inhibition reduces inflammation and pain. Investigating the mysteries of COXs anchored my scientific career. I attribute my successes to the great good fortune of having been surrounded by people who helped me make the most of my talents. I have written this reflection in a light-hearted fashion as a self-help essay, while highlighting the people and factors that most impacted me during my upbringing and then during my maturation and evolution as a biochemist.


COX-2; NSAID; arachidonic acid (AA) (ARA); aspirin; celecoxib; cyclooxygenase (COX); eicosanoid; half-sites; lipid mediator; naproxen; omega-3 fatty acid; prostaglandin

Conflict of interest statement

The author declares that he has no conflicts of interest with the contents of this article. The content is solely the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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