Ulf von Euler Biography

Ulf von Euler, a renowned Swedish physiologist, made significant contributions to the study of nerve impulses and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1970. Coming from a family of distinguished scientists, including a Nobel laureate father and a grandfather who discovered chemical elements, von Euler was destined for a career in academia. After completing his medical studies at Karolinska Institute, he delved into research and collaborated with prominent scientists in England, Belgium, and Germany. During this time, he made several groundbreaking discoveries, including the identification of “substance-P” and four other active substances. However, it was his discovery of “noradrenaline” that ultimately led to his Nobel Prize recognition. Alongside his research, von Euler was also known for his exceptional teaching and mentorship abilities. By the end of his life, he had earned the title of the “grand old man” of chemical information transfer and signaling.

Quick Facts

  • Died At Age: 78
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Dagmar Cronstedt (m. 1958)
    • Father: Hans von Euler-Chelpin
  • Physiologists
  • Pharmacologists
  • Died on: March 9, 1983
  • City: Stockholm, Sweden
  • More Facts:
    • Awards:
      • 1970 – Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
      • 1961 – Gairdner Foundation International Award

Childhood & Early Life

Ulf von Euler was born on 7 February 1905, in Stockholm, into an educationally distinguished family. His father, Hans Karl August Simon von Euler-Chelpin, was a German-born Swedish biochemist, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1929. His mother, Astrid M. Cleve von Euler, was the first Swedish woman to obtain a doctoral degree in science (botany). Born as the eldest daughter of Per Teodor Cleve, who discovered holmium and thulium, she was a professor of botany and geology and also a reputed researcher at Uppsala University.

Ulf von Euler was the second son of his parents’ five children. Although his parents divorced in 1912 and his father married Elisabeth Baroness af Ugglas the following year it did not have any negative impact on his upbringing. Brought up in a scientific environment, it became inevitable that Ulf von Euler would also grow up to be a scientist. He did his schooling first in Stockholm and then in Karlstad. In 1922, he entered Karolinska Institute, one of the most prestigious medical schools in the world, to study medicine.

While there, von Euler began his research work under Robin Fåhraeus on blood sedimentation and rheology. Later he also researched on the pathophysiology of vasoconstriction. In 1926, he started working as an assistant in the Department of Pharmacology under Göran Liljestrand. Concurrently, he started working on his thesis and received his doctoral degree from the same institute in 1930.


Soon after receiving his PhD in 1930, von Euler was appointed as an Assistant Professor in Pharmacology at Karolinska Institute, also known as Royal Caroline Institute, on the recommendation of Göran Liljestrand. In the same year, he received a Rochester Fellowship to do his post-doctoral studies abroad. Accordingly, he first went to England to work with John H. Gaddum at the laboratory of Sir Henry Dale in London. Working with rabbits, he discovered an active biological factor, which is resistant to atropine. He named it ‘Substance P’. The substance contracted the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract and lowered blood pressure in anesthetized rabbits. After working on it for few months he described its polypeptide structure, studied its distribution in the body and also developed methods to purify it.

Subsequently, he worked with I. de Burgh Daly in Birmingham, Corneille Heymans in Ghent and Gustav Embden in Frankfurt before returning to Karolinska Institute, where he carried on his research work. Then on coming back to Stockholm, he resumed his duty as an Assistant Professor at the Karolinska Institute. However, he kept on making foreign tours, visiting laboratories of established scientists around the world.

In 1934, he made his second discovery. Continuing with his work on different kinds of tissue extracts he discovered another atropine-resistant biological factor in human seminal fluid and sheep vesicular glands. He dubbed it ‘prostaglandin’. On further examination, he found prostaglandin to be an unsaturated, lipid-soluble, nitrogen-free organic acid. Then he went on to describe its tissue sources and pharmacological properties and developed methods for its extraction and purification.

Next, in 1935, von Euler discovered another endogenous active substance called vesiglandin. Later in 1938, he went to London to study neuromuscular transmission with G. L. Brown. In 1939, Euler was appointed a full Professor at Karolinska Institute, holding that position till 1971. Although the World War II broke out in 1939, Norway being a neutral country, von Euler could focus on his research work without any hindrance. Some time now, he collaborated with Göran Liljestrand to discover a physiological phenomenon, which was later dubbed as the ‘Euler–Liljestrand mechanism’. In it they described the connection between ventilation and blood circulation of the lung.

In 1942, von Euler discovered his fourth endogenous active substance called piperidine. From 1946 to 1947, he visited Buenos Aires to work with Eduardo Braun-Menéndez in the Instituto de Biología y Medicina Experimental. Sometime in 1946, he also identified norepinephrine, which is said to be his greatest discovery. Soon after identifying norepinephrine, which is also called noradrenaline, he began to focus completely on it. Finally after a long and painstaking research, he and his team were able to establish that norepinephrine functions as a neurotransmitter and was produced and stored in nerve synaptic terminals in intracellular vesicles. Later, he also worked on the functions of different chemical agents in regulating respiration, circulation, and blood pressure. He was a non-dogmatic researcher and was closely tied to his laboratory. He was also an outstanding teacher and mentor. He encouraged his students to try out new ideas and was always ready to listen to them. He had once said, “There are few things as rewarding for a scientist as having young students starting their research work and finding that they have made an original observation”.

Major Works

Identification of norepinephrine in the sympathetic nervous system is considered to be his most important work. He and his team had also studied it from various angles and the findings provided a new direction to the research on the neurotransmission processes. The discovery had a great impact not only on scientific world, but also on medical science.

Awards & Achievements

In 1970, Ulf von Euler received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his discovery “concerning the humoral transmittors in the nerve terminals and the mechanism for their storage, release and inactivation”. He shared the prize with Sir Bernard Katz and Julius Axelrod, who independently worked on the same topic.

Personal Life & Legacy

On 12 April, 1930, Ulf von Euler married Jane Sodenstierna. They had two sons; Hans Leo and Johan Christopher, and two daughters; Ursula Katarina and Marie Jane. All of them were highly educated and held important positions in their respective fields. The marriage culminated in a divorce in 1957. He married Dagmar Carola Adelaide Cronstedt, a Swedish Countess, on 20 August 1958. They remained together till his death. The couple did not have any children. Ulf von Euler died in Stockholm on 9 March 1983 following complications resulting from an open heart surgery.


von Euler was the great-great-great-great grandson of Leonhard Euler, eighteenth century’s legendary mathematician, who invented infinitesimal calculus and graph theory and made pioneering contributions to topology and analytic number theory. He was also a noted physicist, astronomer, logician and engineer.

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