All cells receive messages via hormones, neurotransmitter molecules and growth factors. These molecules bind to protein receptors in the cell membrane and relay their information in the form of "second messengers" to the cell's interior. It has long been known that cells contain a vitamin-like substance called myoinositol.

Our discovery 35 years ago that cell-surface receptor activation leads to increased metabolic turnover of an inositol-containing phospholipid, phosphatidylinositol (PI), was serendipitous. Had there not been phospholipid-derived contaminants in an "RNA" fraction I was studying, Mabel Hokin and I probably would never have come across this important phenomenon. It turns out that the "PI effect" involves the release of components of inositol phospholipids that serve as second messengers.

The story begins in August 1949, when I arrived at H.A. Krebs' laboratory at the University of Sheffield, U.K., to work towards a biochemistry Ph.D. As was often his style, Krebs suggested that I...

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