Commemoration of the German Society of Gastroenterology
In memory of

Prof. Dr. med.
Otto Loewi
1873 - 1961

Prof. Dr. med. Otto Loewi, Archive H Je
Prof. Dr. med. Otto Loewi, Archive H Je

Member since 1930

Studies in Strasbourg and Munich

Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine together with Henry H. Dale 1936

Habilitation thesis, Marburg 1900
Habilitation thesis, Marburg 1900
Pfluegers Archiv Ges Physiol 1921; 189: 239 - 42
Pfluegers Archiv Ges Physiol 1921; 189: 239 - 42

Prof. Dr. med. Otto Loewi

  • Frankfurt am Main, 0‌3‌.‌0‌6‌.‌1‌8‌7‌3‌
  • New York, 2‌5‌.‌1‌2‌.‌1‌9‌6‌1‌
  • Member since 1930
  • Escaped to the USA in 1938
  • Graz
  • Pharmacologist

Otto Loewi was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1873 as the son of Jacob Loewi and his wife Anna, née Willstätter.


Education and Places of Work

After graduating from the Städtisches Gymnasium in Frankfurt in 1891, Otto Loewi studied medicine in Strasbourg, in Munich in 1893, and again in Strasbourg from 1894. He passed the state examination in Strasbourg in 1896 and received his doctorate the same year with the thesis “Zur quantitativen Wirkung der Blausäure, Arsen und Phosphor auf das isolierte Froschherz”, which he had written under the supervision of the pharmacologist Oswald Schmiedeberg. Otto Loewi trained in biochemistry under Franz Hofmeister, Strasbourg, and worked as an intern under Carl von Noorden in the Medical Clinic at the Frankfurt-Sachsenhausen Municipal Hospital in 1897. He decided to work in basic research and worked at the Institute of Pharmacology under Hans H. Meyer at the Philipps University in Marburg from 1898 to 1905. He habilitated in pharmacology with the thesis “Untersuchungen über Nucleinsäuren” in Marburg in 1900. He spent some time in London with Ernest Starling as part of a scholarship in 1902.

Dissertation, Straßburg 1896
Dissertation, Straßburg 1896
Habilitation thesis, Marburg 1900
Habilitation thesis, Marburg 1900

He transferred to the Institute of Pharmacology at the University of Vienna in Austria together with Hans Meyer in 1905. Loewi was appointed chair of pharmacology at the Karl Franzens University in Graz in 1909.

His work initially focused on the protein and carbohydrate metabolism as well as the nucleic acid metabolism. He dealt with nitrogen equilibrium in mammals, diabetes mellitus, especially phlorizin diabetes, the effects of pilocarpine, atropine and adrenaline, renal function and the effects of digitalis.

His focus quickly shifted to studies of the vegetative nervous system. Loewi discovered the chemical transmission of nervous impulses through a “vagus substance” in 1921, which was later described as acetylcholine by Henry Hallet Dale. Loewi and Dale were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1936 for the fundamental discovery of the humoral transmission of nerve impulses to muscles, glands and cells.

Pfluegers Archiv Ges Physiol 1921; 189: 239 - 42
Pfluegers Archiv Ges Physiol 1921; 189: 239 - 42


Escape from Austria to England in 1938 and to the USA in 1940

Loewi was temporarily imprisoned by the Nazi authorities in Graz in 1938, following the invasion of Austria by the German Wehrmacht.

Loewi fled Austria on 28 September 1938. He received a visiting professorship at the Université Libre in Brussels. He moved to the Nuffield Institute in Oxford in 1939. He was released from internment as an enemy alien after the beginning of the Second World War.

Otto Loewi arrived in the USA aboard the Royal Mail Ship Samaria from Liverpool on 22 May 1940 and reached New York on 1 July 1940. He found employment as a research professor at the Department of Pharmacology of the New York University’s College of Medicine. Loewi received US citizenship in April 1946.

Otto Loewi died in New York on 25 December 1961 at the age of 85.


  1. Über Einweißsynthese im Tierkörper. Arch Exp Path Pharm 1902; 48: 303-330
  2. Ueber eine neue Funktion des Pankreas und ihre Beziehung zum Diabetes mellitus. Arch exp Path Pharm 1908; 59: 83-94
  3. Ueber humorale Uebertragbarkeit der Herznervenwirkung. I. Mitteilung. Pflüger’s Arch ges Physiol 1921; 189: 239-42
  4. Ueber humorale Uebetragbarkeit der Herznervenwirkung. II. Mitteilung. Pfüger’s Arch ges Physiol 1922; 193: 201-13
  5. From the workshop of discovieries. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1953

Sources and Further Reading


Biographie of Prof. Dr. med. Otto Loewi


  • Bayerische Staatsbibliothek München. Loewi O. Dissertation: Zur quantitaitiven Wirkung von Blausäure, Arsen und Phosphor auf das isolierte Froschherz. Straßburg 1896. BSB, Sign 302-67: 14


  • Dale HH. Otto Loewi. Ergeb Physiol 1963; 52: 1-19
  • Fischer I. Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte der letzten fünfzig Jahre. Band I. Berlin, Wien: Urban & Schwarzenberg; 1932: 936
  • Kagan S. Jewish Physicians. Boston: Medico-Historical Press 1952: 214f.
  • Kuffler S W. Otto Loewi. J Neurophysiol 1962; 25: 451-3
  • Lembeck F, Giere W. Otto Loewi. Ein Lebensbild in Dokumenten. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Verlag 1968
  • Loewi O. On the background of the discovery of neurochemical transmission. J Mt Sinai Hosp NY 1957; 24: 1014-1016
  • Loewi O. An autobiographical sketch. Perspect Biol Med 1960; 4: 3-25