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Vol. 34 No. 4
July-August 2012

Stamps International |

See also www.iupac.org/publications/ci/indexes/stamps.html


To Sneeze or Not To Sneeze

Allergies, among the most common ailments in the world, are abnormal reactions of the immune system that take place in response to otherwise harmless substances. Mild allergies often arise from exposure to widespread environmental allergens such as dust and pollen, which cause the red eyes, itchiness, and runny nose characteristic of hay fever. However, more severe allergic reactions may occur in some individuals, for example, upon ingestion of certain foods (e.g., peanuts), administration of penicillin or other antibiotics, or direct contact with the venom of stinging insects such as wasps and bees. Whether inhaled, ingested, or absorbed into the bloodstream, the offending substances trigger the release of copious amounts of histamine, an organic nitrogen compound derived from the amino acid histidine. Histamine is a potent vasodilator that increases the permeability of capillaries and leads to swelling of the affected tissues, redness, nasal congestion, sneezing, and other classic symptoms associated with allergic reactions. Most antihistamine drugs used in the treatment of allergies work by blocking the attachment of histamine to its cellular receptors and thus suppressing the ensuing inflammatory response. Interestingly, other histamine antagonists operate instead by inhibiting the activity of histidine decarboxylase, the enzyme that catalyzes the biosynthesis of histamine.

The stamp illustrated in this note, issued in 2008, shows the structural formula of histamine and honors Daniel Bovet (1907-1992), the Swiss-born Italian pharmacologist who discovered the first antihistamine in 1937 while working at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. His seminal studies on the pharmacology of a vast range of substances that affect the function of the central nervous system, including acetylcholine, adrenaline, and curare, a generic name used to describe various paralyzing South American arrow poisons, were recognized with the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1957. He published more than 300 papers, became a member of multiple learned societies, and is universally regarded as one of the forefathers of modern pharmacodynamics and mechanistic pharmacology.

Written by Daniel Rabinovich <drabinov@uncc.edu>.


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