Hans Kosterlitz

Hans Walter Kosterlitz FRS[1] (27 April 1903 26 October 1996) was a German-born British biologist.[2].

Hans Kosterlitz
Hans Walter Kosterlitz

(1903-04-27)27 April 1903
Died26 October 1996(1996-10-26) (aged 93)
NationalityBritish, German (before 1933)
CitizenshipGermany, Great Britain
Alma materHumboldt University of Berlin
Known forEndorphins
Spouse(s)Hannah Greßhöner
AwardsHarvey Prize (1981)
Fellow of the Royal Society (1978)[1]
Royal Medal (1979)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Aberdeen


Kosterlitz earned a Doctor of Medicine (Dr. med) at Humboldt University of Berlin. He emigrated to Scotland in 1934, after the Nazi takeover in Germany led to antisemitic legislation that barred him from his job at Charité in Berlin.[2] The affair shocked him and he fled to the UK, and after obtaining work in the UK, he was able to obtain safe-haven for his mother, brother, and fiancée Hanna. He joined the staff of University of Aberdeen in the same year, as an Assistant in the Physiology Department. Over the years he was a Carnegie Teaching Fellow, Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, and finally Reader. In 1968, Aberdeen established a new Department of Pharmacology, which was headed by Kosterlitz as professor until 1973, when he became director of the university's drug addiction research unit.[3][4]

Kosterlitz is best known for his work as one of the key discoverers[2] of endorphins.[5][6] He stimulated the mouse isolated vas deferens electrically and recorded its contractions with a polygraph. He then found that if you added opiates to the solution, the muscle would not contract. Opiates inhibited the contraction. Those contractions were later found to resume in the presence of both opiates and an antagonist such as naloxone. Later, endogenous endorphins were discovered by applying pig brain cell homegenate to the apparatus. This caused the contractions to cease. The degree to which an opiate agonist inhibits contractions of the mouse vas deferens, and other tissues like the guinea pig ileum, is highly correlated to its potency as an analgesic.

Kosterlitz was given the Scheele Award in 1977, and shared the Albert Lasker Award with John Hughes and Solomon H. Snyder in 1978 for his work in the discovery of the opiate receptors and their natural ligands. The Kosterlitz Centre at the University of Aberdeen, opened on 16 September 2010, is named in his honour.

Hans Kosterlitz was married, since 1937, to Hanna Greßhöner. Their son, J. Michael, is Professor of Physics at Brown University, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2016


  1. North, R. A.; Hughes, J. (2013). "Hans Walter Kosterlitz. 27 April 1903 -- 26 October 1996". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 59: 171–192. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2012.0037.
  2. Goldberg, Jeff. Anatomy of a Scientific Discovery: The Race to Find the Body's Own Morphine. Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 13 Dec 2013
  3. Lees, G. M. (1998). "A tribute to the late Hans W. Kosterlitz: Ploughing the lone furrow". Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. 76 (3): 244–251. doi:10.1139/cjpp-76-3-244. PMID 9673787.
  4. Hughes, J. (1996). "Hans Kosterlitz (1903–96)". Nature. 384 (6608): 418. doi:10.1038/384418a0. PMID 8945465.
  5. Hughes, J.; Kosterlitz, H. W.; Smith, T. W. (1997). "The distribution of methionine-enkephalin and leucine-enkephalin in the brain and peripheral tissues. 1978". British Journal of Pharmacology. 120 (4 Suppl): 428–436, discussion 436–7. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.1997.tb06829.x. PMC 3224324. PMID 9142421.
  6. Henderson, G.; Hughes, J.; Kosterlitz, H. W. (1997). "A new example of a morphine-sensitive neuro-effector junction: Adrenergic transmission in the mouse vas deferens. 1972". British Journal of Pharmacology. 120 (4 Suppl): 396–398, discussion 398–5. doi:10.1111/j.1476-5381.1997.tb06821.x. PMC 3224316. PMID 9142417.
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