Ferid Murad, whose discoveries concerning the role that nitric oxide plays in the cardiovascular system earned him a 1996 Lasker Clinical Medical Research Award, has passed away at the age of 86.

In the mid-1970s, Murad discovered that nitrogen-containing compounds (such as sodium azide, nitroglycerin, nitroprusside and nitric oxide) stimulate the enzyme that synthesizes cyclic GMP, the intracellular signaling molecule that causes smooth muscle cells to relax. Murad coined the term nitrovasodilators to denote this class of agents, and he postulated that all of them might be metabolized to nitric oxide (NO), which was the real chemical mediator. He also postulated that nitric oxide might be produced endogenously from a precursor to act as an intracellular messenger.

The dramatic discovery in 1980 by Robert Furchgott of endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF) led scientists to search for the chemical nature of this agent. (Furchgott’s work was honored along with Murad’s by the 1996 Lasker Clinical Award).

In the late 1980s, several groups of scientists independently showed that EDRF and nitric oxide were one and the same. Thus, Murad’s prediction of an endogenous nitrovasodilator was fulfilled several years after it was originally proposed.

Murad, who began his research in nitrogen-containing compounds at the University of Virginia, later moved to the University of Texas Medical School at Houston, and eventually to Stanford. Murad continued his research on nitric oxide for the rest of his life.