The 1971 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology was awarded to American physician and pharmacologist Earl Wilbur Sutherland, Jr, for his discoveries regarding the mechanics of hormonal action. Among his many important contributions was the isolation of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP). He demonstrated its involvement in numerous metabolic processes.
Sutherland was born on November 19, 1915, in Burlingame, a small town in eastern Kansas. His father had been a farmer in New Mexico and Oklahoma, but when the family moved to Kansas, he became a dry-goods merchant. Sutherland graduated from Washburn College in Topeka, Kan, in 1937 and received an MD degree from Washington University Medical School in St Louis, Mo, in 1942. After graduating from medical school, he served in the US Army until 1945, first as a battalion surgeon in the field and then as a staff physician in a military hospital in Germany. After being discharged from the army in 1945, Sutherland returned to St Louis to work in the laboratory of American biochemist and 1947 Nobel Prize laureate Carl F. Cori (1896–1984), who directed Sutherland to a research career. Sutherland became a professor at Washington University, and during his 8 years there he concentrated on 2 projects: the investigation of phosphorylase (an enzyme for initiating the breakdown of glycogen in the liver and in muscles) and the determination of how the hormones epinephrine and glucagon cause the liver to release glucose.
Sutherland remained in St Louis until 1953, when he was appointed professor and director of the department of medicine and the department of pharmacology at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio (now Case Western Reserve University), where he discovered cAMP in 1956. He analyzed phosphorylase and found that 2 other enzymes are also present in liver extract: one that converts active phosphorylase to its inactive form, releasing inorganic phosphate, and another that reactivates the inactive form, incorporating inorganic phosphate into the molecule. This phosphorylation-dephosphorylation reaction is one of the basic biochemical energy-releasing processes of organisms.
In 1963, Sutherland became professor of physiology at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn, where he continued his research on cAMP. From 1973 until his death in 1974, he was on the faculty of the University of Miami Medical School (Fla).
After 1971, Sutherland turned his attention to cyclic guanosine monophosphate (3',5' -GMP) like which, like cAMP, is widely distributed in tissues. In addition, he investigated how the hormone adrenaline regulates carbohydrate metabolism by the role of cAMP intermediates in hormonal activities and the involvement of cAMP in the transmission of genetic information and in abnormal cell growth.
On May 9, 1974, at the age of 58 years, Sutherland had a massive esophageal hemorrhage and died in Miami, Fla. He was honored on a stamp issued by Guyana in 1995.
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