Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: Neher, Erwin
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

German cell physiologist who was awarded a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1991 with Bert Sakmann for their discovery of how gatelike structures (ion channels) regulate the flow of ions into and out of cells, and in particular for their studies on beta-endorphin (a messenger hormone secreted by the pituitary gland).

Patch-clamp technique Neher and Sakmann developed the patch-clamp technique in 1976 to measure the electrical activity of very small portions of cell membranes. This technique revolutionized the study of ion channels. To perform the technique a glass pipette with a tip diameter of about one micrometer is pressed against a cell and slight suction is then applied to seal the cell membrane against the pipette. The technique allows the flow of ions through a single channel and transitions between different states of a channel to be monitored with a time resolution of microseconds.

Beta-endorphin Using this method, Neher and Sakmann investigated the effect of beta-endorphin on the membrane of cells. Beta-endorphin is a neurohormone (a messenger chemical that is made by nerve cells) secreted by the pituitary gland and an opiate that has been found to play a clinical role in the perception of pain, behavioural patterns, obesity, diabetes, and psychiatric disorders. Neher and Sakmann demonstrated that beta-endorphin acts not only on nerves in the brain to regulate their secretion of neurotransmitters but also, via calcium channels, acts on the walls of arteries in the brain.

Life Neher was born in Landsberg in Germany and trained originally as a physicist in Munich and at the University of Wisconsin. While working at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, he took a year-long sabbatical to work with the physiologist Sakmann at Yale University.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.