Barry Blackwell: Ervin Varga: Family, Culture, Persona and Career.

Ervin Varga’s reply to Joseph Knoll’s comment

Thank you for your comment. You mentioned the lucky and rare coincidence of our common background but did not mention that in high school and medical school you were excellent in chemistry whereas I was not.

My role in the Deprenyl story came about by your trusting gesture of inviting me to collaborate with you that I took seriously. You asked me to find a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) among the substances you worked with that has antidepressant effect. The substance I identified became known later as Deprenyl. Further investigations revealed that this particular phenylalkylamine did not cause (blocked) the "cheese reaction".
I provided you with a new substance which in small doses was safe. I remember, then trying higher doses and when the dose was increased to 20-40 mg/day with careful dietary precautions a faster onset of antidepressant effect was noted. Using the substance in this higher dose range lead to a renewed interest in the substance and raised the possibility that Deprenyl inhibits a different enzyme, to be referred to as MAO-B, than the other MAOIs used in the treatment of depression (which inhibit the MAO-A enzyme). However, marketing Deprenyl for the treatment of depression went nowhere. I had difficulties getting Deprenyl even from local drug stores in Hungary.

 I stopped working with Deprenyl in 1968 after I left Hungary and joined Nate Kline in the US, because I became busy with other projects. Yet, I followed the Deprenyl story from a distance and noticed that with your diligence you created again something important by opening up a new perspective with your concept of “enhancer regulation”. More recently, I also learned that you developed a new synthetic substance with an effect on “enhancer regulation”.

My questions: Did you drop Deprenyl and if you did, did you drop it because it was a weak antidepressant? Did you turn away your attention from the MAO-As and MAO-B because of the dose restrictions in their clinical use? What would the “enhancer regulation” concept contribute to psychiatry or is it a contribution to neurobiology entirely at this point in time?

Ervin Varga

June 16, 2016