In Memoriam

Sydney Spector

New York, NY, USA 1923 – Mariette, GA, USA, 2012 


Carlos Morra


Sydney Spector was interviewed on March 3, 1998 in Nashvile, Tennessee, USA by Fridolin Sulser for the Oral History Series of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacolgy, and the edited transcript of this interview was published in Volume 3 (Neuropharmacology) of the series (Ban 2011; Sulser 2011). .

The entry on Spector, in the Dramatis Personae of the volume editor (Fridolin Sulser) reads:

“Sidney Spector received his PhD in Pharmacology in 1957 from Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, PA. After spending 5 years as a Pharmacologist in Brodie’s Laboratory of Chemical Pharmacology at the NIH, he became, in 1961, Head of the Section on Pharmacology, Experimental Therapeutics Branch at the National Heart Institute of NIH. In 1968, he moved to the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, N.J. where he was first Section Chief and then Department Head of the Department of Physiological Chemistry and Pharmacology, and finally, Laboratory Head in the Department of Neurosciences. After his retirement from the Roche Institute in 1990, he moved to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, as Professor of Pharmacology and Psychiatry.  Sidney Spector’s research career started at the NIH by studying the synthesis and metabolism of catecholamines. He demonstrated the rate limiting step in the biosynthesis of NE is tyrosine hydroxylase mediated hydroxylation of tyrosine and that this could be inhibited by alpha-methyltyrosine, a substance that was to become an important research tool. At the Roche Institute, Sidney Spector moved into a new area of research, immunopharmacology. He started to produce antibodies to various drugs, including barbiturates, reserpine, morphine, tricyclic antidepressants, chlorpromazine and haloperidol. To follow their kinetics radioimmunoassays offered specificity and great sensitivity. One of the most exciting findings was the discovery of endogenous morphine in brain. Sidney thinks that endogenous morphine is playing a number of roles as an endocoid. Sidney Spector has trained many postdoctoral fellows who occupy world-wide leadership positions in government, universities and industry. He serves on a number of editorial boards and was President of ASPET in 1979.  Spector received the Roche Research Award and Development Prize, the Paul K. Smith Award, the ASPET Award for Experimental Therapeutics and the Julius Axelrod Award in Pharmacology” (Sulser 2011).

In the same volume, Thomas A. Ban, the series editor of Oral History of Neuropsychopharmacology summed up Spector’s contributions to neuropsychopharmacology as follows: “Sydney Spector, another Brodie disciple, identified tyrosine hydroxylation as the rate limiting step in the formation of catecholamines. He demonstrated, in the mid-1960s, that blocking the activity of tyrosine hydroxylase by α-methyltyrosine depleted NE in the brain. Spector, with the employment of radioimmunoassay, developed antibodies to psychotropic drugs which could distinguish between the isomers of a substance.  With the use of antibodies he isolated, in the mid-1970s, an endogenous morphine-like substance in the brain (Gintzler, Levy and Spector 1976; Spector 1974, 2002).

An “Autobiographical Account” of Sydney Spector was published with the title, Interaction between immunopharmacology and neuropsychopharmacology, in volume 3 (Ban , Healy and Shorter 2002) of  The History of Psychopharmacology as Told in Autobiography and the CINP (Ban, Healy and Shorter 2004).




Ban TA, Healy D, Shorter E, editors. Reflections on Twentieth-Century Psychopharmacology. Volume 4 of the series The History of Psychopharmacology and the CINP. As Told in Autobiography. Budapest: Animula; 2004.

Gintzler AR, Levy 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.

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. p. 363-4.

Spector S. Interaction between immunopharmacology and neuropsychopharmacology. In: Ban TA, Healy D. Shorter E, editors. From Psychopharmacology to Neuropsychopharmacology in the 1980s and the Story of CINP. As Told in Autobiography. Budapest: Animula; 2002. p. 273-5.


Carlos A. Morra

August 25, 2016