History

An Italian chemist, Ascanio Sobrero, working in Paris under the tutelage of a French chemist, Theophile-Jules Pelouse, accomplished the nitration of glycerol in 1847. They found that, unless cooled, the compound would detonate. Sobrero also reported that a minute quantity placed on the tongue would produce a violent headache for several hours. Four years later, Alfred Nobel visited Pelouse's laboratory and took the compound back to Stockholm, where he and his father, Immanuel, invented a method to control its detonation. As is now well known, this invention became a huge commercial success and some of the proceeds were used to found the prize bearing his name. It is ironic that in 1890, Alfred Nobel developed angina pectoris, but refused to take nitroglycerin (NTG) as advised by his physician [1].

After some animal experimentation, the clinical use of nitrates began in 1867, when a Scotsman, Thomas Lauder Brunton, tried it on himself. Experience in the use of NTG in patients grew slowly and was then described for the treatment of angina pectoris by a number of physicians, among them a Londoner, William Murrell [2]. Within a few years, NTG had become accepted as an effective form of therapy. Brunton's seminal work in this field was reviewed in his Textbook of Pharmacology and Therapeutics in 1885. The history of NTG and nitric oxide (NO) was well described in greater detail by Marsh and Marsh [1] in 2000.

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