The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1939.
"for his work on sex hormones"
Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt (1903 - 1995) won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the structure and function of sex hormones, particularly estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone.
He was not allowed to accept the Nobel Prize in 1939. After the war, in 1949, he was given the medal at a special ceremony.
He shared the 1939 Nobel Prize with Leopold Ruzicka.
The original (1939) award presentation describes Butenandt's isolation and identification of estradiol.
As recently as twelve years ago, very little was known about the nature of the sex hormones. As regards the oestrogenic, or follicle, hormone it was established that extracts from certain organs, e.g. the ovaries and placenta, bring about the characteristic oestrus phenomena in castrated female rats. Only a few observations were available concerning the stability and solubility of their active principles. Further development in the chemistry of the oestrogenic hormones could not take place until the purely biological discoveries by Allen and Doisy in 1923 and by Aschheim and Zondek in 1927 had been made.
Butenandt made the first big step forward in clarifying the chemistry of the follicle hormone in 1929 in Göttingen, simultaneously with Doisy in the United States. Both workers succeeded in isolating from the urine of pregnant women a substance in crystalline form having oestrogenic effects. Butenandt named this substance folliculine, a designation which was later changed to oestrone. He established that its empirical formula was C18H22O2, and that it was an oxyketone.
Shortly after the discovery of oestrone, Marrian in London (1930) isolated from the urine of pregnant women a new hormone which he called oestriol. Butenandt confirmed Marrian's discovery and explained the relationship between the new substance and oestrone. The relation between sterols and oestrogenic substances which had been assumed on crystallographical grounds became probable from the chemical point of view only after Butenandt and Marrian had shown, independently of one another, that only three benzoide double bonds enter into the ring system of these substances.
In 1932, Butenandt was able, from observations made in spectral analysis, and especially on the basis of the then established correct formula of cholesterol to draw up the formulae of the chemical structure of oestrone and oestriol. But there remained the important task of proving the chemical structure of the ring system as assumed by Butenandt. By breaking down the oestriol molecule stage by stage Butenandt proved that both œstrogenic hormones contained a phenanthrene core. At the same time he was able to obtain the same dimethyl phenanthrene from etiobilianic acid, a transformation product of cholic acid. He had thus confirmed the close relationship existing between the follicle hormones on the one hand and the bile acids and sterols on the other.
[Photo Credit: ULLSTEIN BILD from Nature]
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