Louis Ignarro received his B.S. from Columbia University and his doctorate in pharmacology and physiology from the University of Minnesota. He also performed a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in chemical pharmacology.
He began his academic career in the Department of Pharmacology at Tulane, where he rose to the rank of professor. He then joined the faculty at the University of California at Los Angeles and is currently the Jerome J. Belzer Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology.
Dr. Ignarro's early research experience with cyclic GMP led him to make the original discovery that nitric oxide (NO) is a vasorelaxant and that its mechanism of action involves cyclic GMP. In concurrent studies, he was the first to elucidate the mechanism of vasodilator action of nitroglycerin and related nitrates and nitrites, namely, their metabolism to NO and consequent stimulation of cyclic GMP production in vascular smooth muscle.
This led to his discovery that NO also inhibits platelet aggregation, accounts for the antiplatelet actions of nitro compounds and elicits this action via cyclic GMP. The discovery of the mechanism of action of nitroglycerin led to Dr. Ignarro's original observations that S-nitrosothiols were intermediates in the metabolic activation of nitroglycerin and served as potent and labile NO donors in the process. This was the first study on the biology of S-nitrosothiols, and led to their present-day use as NO donor agents.
Studies on the mechanism of activation of guanylyl cyclase by NO led to the original finding that NO binds to the heme prosthetic group and activates the enzyme by a protoporphyrin IX-like binding interaction. Dr. Ignarro's laboratory first showed that EDRF activates guanylyl cyclase and possesses the biological and chemical properties of NO. Knowledge of the biology and chemistry of NO led him to make the first observation that NO is a neurotransmitter mediating penile erection. His worked on nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system earned him the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, which he shared with Robert Furchgott and Ferid Murad.
Dr Ignarro has received numerous other research awards, including the CIBA Award for Hypertension Research and the Basic Research Prize of the American Heart Association. He has also received numerous awards for his outstanding teaching abilities.
He is a member of numerous societies, including the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the founder/president of the new professional society called Nitric Oxide Society and founder and editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Nitric Oxide.