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Sydney Spector was born in 1923 in New York, NY. He received his PhD in 1956 from the Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, PA. After graduation, he joined Bernard B. Brodie‘s Laboratory of Chemical Pharmacology at the National Heart Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Sydney Spector was part of the Laboratory that became the Mecca of Biochemical Pharmacology and gave birth of Biological Psychiatry.  His studies on monoamine oxidase (MAO) and MAO inhibitors and on the action of reserpine and biogenic amines in brain contributed significantly to the scientific basis of the heuristic catecholamine hypothesis of affective disorders.

In 1961, he started collaborating with Al Sjoerdsma and Sydney Udenfriend at the NIH.  His kinetic studies on catecholamine synthesis demonstrated that the rate-liming step in the biosynthesis of catecholamines is tyrosine hydroxylase (Levitt, Spector, Sjoerdsma and Udenfriend 1965). He then discovered α-methyltyrosine (α-MT) as an inhibitor of tyrosine hydroxylase (Spector, Sjoerdsma and Udenfriend 1965). Because of its specificity, α-MT provided researchers in psychopharmacology with an important tool for the elucidation of the mechanism of action of psychotropic drugs (e.g., the tricyclic antidepressants failed to “reverse” the reserpine-like syndrome in rats whose brain norepinephrine was selectively depleted by αMT, indicating that catecholamines were involved in the antidepressant action). These studies on catecholamines are one of the highest quoted papers.

In 1968, Sydney Spector moved to the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, New Jersey. There, after a sabbatical with Herman Eisen at Washington University, he moved into a new research area: Immunopharmacology. He provided clinicians and basic researchers with tools to measure drug levels in a quantitative way in plasma, brain tissue and cerebrospinal fluid: The ”Spector Monoclonal Antibodies” to barbiturates, morphine, reserpine, desmethylimipramine (DMI), naloxone, chlorpromazine, haloperidol, etc. (Spector 1974). Then came the most exciting discovery, the discovery of endogenous morphine in brain. In meticulously designed studies, Sydney Spector demonstrated that brain morphine was endogenous in nature, located in neurons and released by depolarization (Gintzler, Lewy and Spector 1976). The potential of these studies is just begin to unravel.

Sydney Spector received numerous awards for his research accomplishments, including the Paul K. Smith Award   of Washington University School of Medicine, the ASPET Award for Experimental Therapeutics and the Julius Axelrod Award. In 1987, he was elected President of the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. Sydney Spector excelled in his dedication of nurturing and developing scientific talent. His scientific legacy will live on in the cadre of scientists who trained under his mentorship and subsequently established their own distinguished career all over the world, occupying leadership positions in government, universities and industry.

Sydney Spector, age 88, passed away October 26, 2012.


Gintzler AR, Lewy A, Spector S. Antibodies as a means of isolating and characterizing biologically active substances: presence of a non-peptide, morphine-like compound in the central nervous system. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 1976; 73: 2132-6. `

Levitt M, Spector S, Sjoerdsma A, Udenfriend S. Elucidation of the rate-limiting step in norepinephrine biosynthesis in the perfused guinea pig heart. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 1965; 148: 1-8.

Spector S. Development of antibodies to chlorpromazine. In: Forrest IS, Carr CJ, Usdin E, editors. Phenothiazines and Structurally Related Drugs. New York: Raven Press; 1974, pp. 363-4.

Spector S, Sjoerdsma A, Udenfriend S. Blockade of endogenous norepinephrine synthesis by α-methyltyrosine, an inhibitor of tyrosine hydroxylase. J Pharmacol Exp Ther 1965; 147: 86-95.

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March 27, 2014