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In Memoriam

Pr William A. Catterall

IUPHAR mourns of Professor Bill Catterall, the first recipient of the IUPHAR Lifetime Achievement Award, who sadly died on 28th February.


Bill Catterall was professor and chair of pharmacology until 2106 at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA. He has an immense reputation in the field of voltage-gated ion channels having resolved the structure of sodium and calcium channels, and also the sites of action of the drugs interacting with the channels. He also had an immense contribution to IUPHAR, being editor and contributor of the IUPHAR compendium of voltage-gated ion channels (2002) and the Pharmacological Reviews edition in 2003, which introduced the IUPHAR nomenclatures on the voltage-gated ion channels which are accepted worldwide. Bill did this as a member of NC-IUPHAR, the committee that has established nomenclatures for many receptor and ion channel families.


I am particularly distraught as I worked on calcium channel modulators from 1978-85, and was secretary then chair of NC-IUPHAR from 1992-2014, before becoming secretary general. We persuaded Bill to join the committee around 1998 and he was totally dedicated to this activity, flying economy from Seattle to Paris for the two weekend IUPHAR meetings per year, to which he was a major contributor. Bill’s immense scientific stature in the field facilitated the resolution of many nomenclature and scientific disputes.


Beyond, Bill has been Editor of Molecular Pharmacology from 1985 to 1990, member of the Editorial Board of Molecular Pharmacology for many years, member of the Board of Publication Trustees of the American Society for Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics from 1985 to 1998, and founding member of the ASPET Molecular Pharmacology Division.


Bill has been an international leader of research on ion channels for more than 40 years. He defined the structure of sodium and calcium channels – and also the precise site of action of the modulators. I had a great emotional moment in an NC-IUPHAR meeting when he revealed in 2019 the precise and distinct molecular sites of action of dihydropyridines, verapamil and diltiazem, at sites which I had suspected but had no means of proving in the 1980s! In those years, Bill discovered the sodium and calcium channel proteins and reconstituted their function in pure form. His subsequent work has given key insights into voltage-dependent gating and ion conductance, pharmacology, and regulation of sodium and calcium channels by second messenger signaling pathways. Moreover, in the past decade, he has brought his studies of sodium and calcium channels to the atomic level through X-ray crystallography and cryogenic electron microscopy. Looking back to the status of the field in the 1980’s, it seems almost unbelievable that the mysterious structure, voltage-dependent function, and pharmacology of sodium and calcium channels have been elucidated clearly at the atomic level by this long series of studies by Bill Catterall and others in the field. It seems to me that this is one of the revolutionary achievements of biomedical science during these this time, with major implications for our understanding of physiology, pharmacology, and medicine. Bill led these advances in many ways–discovery of sodium and calcium channel proteins and their complex subunit structures, determination of the mechanisms of voltage-dependent gating, revealing the basic chemistry for sodium and calcium conductance, and elucidating the pharmacology of sodium and calcium channels in atomic detail.


Bill’s immense contributions have been recognized by election on many prestigious boards such as the US National Academy of Science and National of Medicine as well as numerous highly respected awards.


Our thoughts are with his beloved wife of more than thirty years, Tina and two children.