Adrenaline or epinephrine?

Blame attributed to Dr James Hayes for this can of worms…

The answer?

Based on the ‘usage argument’; ‘historical precedent’ and ‘etymological derivation’…adrenaline

The history

In 1894, at the University College of London, English physician George Oliver (1841-1915), and physiologist Sir Edward Sharpey-Schafer (1850-1935), observed the effects of the adrenal medulla extract on the heart rate and blood pressure of animals.

American biochemist and pharmacologist, John Jacob Abel (1854 – 1938), of Johns Hopkins University used sheep adrenal glands provided by Armour & Co., to produce a crystalline product that mimicked the blood pressure–increasing effect of Oliver and Schafer’s extract.

Abel first described the product in a paper read before the Association of American Physicians on May 6, 1897, and in more depth as epinephrin in the Proceedings of the American Physiological Society in 1899

Acting on Hyrtl’s suggestion that epinephris would be the best name for the suprarenal capsule, the author has given the name Epinephrin to the active principle as isolated by him.

Abel 1899

Jokichi Takamine (1854-1922), a Japanese biochemist working independently in New York successfully isolated a “pure, stable, crystalline form” of epinephrine. The compound was patented by Takamine and marketed under the trade name “Adrenalin” by Parke, Davis & Company, with whom Takamine had a working relationship

Last summer I devoted my attention to this subject and am pleased to announce that I have succeeded in isolating the active principle in a pure, stable, crystalline form, the base itself. I do not by any means desire to usurp the credit due to the pioneer investigators, yet in view of the fact that no previous authors have obtained the active principle in a pure form, and that there may exist some room for controversy, I have, therefore, termed my substance, as I isolated, “Adrenalin.”

Takamine 1901

Abel isolated the monobenzoyl derivative of the hormone rather than the active principle itself. Takamine isolated the hormone, although it was later shown that the natural product is itself a mixture of 2 substances, adrenaline and noradrenaline.

Adrenaline and epinephrine original formuale in 1901
Takamine 1901

Thomas Aldrich, a Parke, Davis & Company chemist deserves the credit for determining the correct chemical formula of adrenaline. In August of 1901, Aldrich isolated a crystalline substance from the suprarenal glands. He compared his compound with that of Takamine, (made available to Aldrich through Takamine’s relationship with Parke, Davis & Company), and found the 2 substances to be identical. Aldrich then conducted an elementary analysis of adrenalin. His formula for the compound was somewhat different from Takamine’s and later shown to be the correct one as C9H13NO3

It is interesting to note in this connection that if we subtract a benzoyl residue from Abel’s formula for “epinephrin” – C17H15NO4 – we obtain a formula C10H10NO3 which is not very far removed from that of adrenalin – C9H13NO3 – a difference that can be readily explained if we suppose either of the substances to be contaminated with other bodies.

Aldrich 1901

Parke, Davis & Co marketed the extract under the proprietary name Adrenalin, and so epinephrine became the generic name in America, on the incorrect assumption that Abel’s extract was the same as Takamine’s Adrenalin. In fact, Abel’s epinephrin was the inactive benzoylated derivative.

In Europe, Adrenalin was not marketed, and adrenaline became adopted as the generic name with strong support from the eminent English Nobel laureate and pharmacologist Sir Henry Hallett Dale (1875-1978) who argued that the term epinephrine had been used to describe extracts that were not physiologically the same as extracts called adrenaline.

In physiological literature the terminology is settled by those who describe the physiological action…. [No] physiologists owed anything to Abel’s work or could make use of his inactive substances

Dale 1906
Adrenaline versus epinephrine
Aronson JK. BMJ. 2000 Feb 19;320(7233):506-9


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BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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