Bernard Katz

Sir Bernard Katz (born March 26, 1911 in Leipzig, died April 20, 2003) was a famous German biophysicist for his research in biochemistry. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or medicine in 1970 with Julius Axelrod and Ulf von Euler. He was knighted in 1969.


Born in Leipzig in Germany, he received his school education at Köning-Albert-Gymnasium between 1921 and 1929 then integrates the Division of medicine at the University of Leipzig. Degree in hand in 1934, he joined England in February 1935 as its judéo-russe origin make her precarious existence due to the rise of Hitler. He worked at UCL, under the wing of Archibald Vivian Hill. He received his PhD in 1938 and received a fellowship from the Carnegie Fellowship to complete his studies under the direction of John Carew Eccles at Sydney hospital.

Naturalized in 1941, he joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1942. He spent the war as a Radar officer. He married Marguerite Penly in 1945 and returned to UCL as Director assistant in 1946. Returning to England, he worked with the two future Nobel Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley. He was promoted Professor, head of the Biophysics at UCL in 1952 branch. It remains to be the head of the Biophysics until 1978 when he became Professor Emeritus. He died in London on 20 April 2003, at the age of 92.


His main research at UCL are the fundamental properties of synapses, functional areas of contact between two neurons or between a neuron and another cell (muscle cells, sensory receptors…). He is interested in the way the nerve impulse is transmitted between the nerve fibre and muscle. The work of Henry slab and other researchers had previously shown that there were chemical communications between the nerve and the muscle and acetylcholine was playing the role of transmitter of information by binding to receptors in the membrane of the muscle fiber.

Katz, with Paul Fatt, establishes that these receptors, when stimulated by acetylcholine, open doors in the membrane which allows the passage of ions and the creation of an electric current, causing muscle contraction. With Ricardo Miledi among others, Katz showed that acetylcholine was not released continuously but by small packets, quantum, each producing a small signal in the muscle fiber. We now know this is due to the storage of the neurotransmitters in the synaptic vesicles (see Exocytosis).

His latest discoveries, published in the 1970s, pave the way on the functioning of ion channels. Subsequently, Bert Sakmann and Erwin Neher will be award the Nobel Prize in 1991 for their work on these channels.

The work of Katz had an influence on the study of organophosphates and organochlorines, and post-war nerve gas and pesticides, Katz studies demonstrated that nerve transmission between the nerve and muscle, through acetylcholine, could be easily blocked.


The influence of his work on synaptic transmission is invaluable, not only in Physiology but in pharmacology also. He was awarded, among other honours, by his election to the Royal Society in 1952, and 18 years later, in 1970, he received the Nobel Prize, jointly with Ulf von Euler of Sweden and Julius Axelrod of United States, for their discoveries relating to chemical signals in nerve terminals and the mechanism of storage, leaching and the inactivation of these neurotransmitters.

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