In Memoriam: J. Murdoch Ritchie, Pharmacologist Studied Peripheral Nerve

J. Murdoch Ritchie, the Eugene Higgins Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology, died on July 10 after a long illness.

Ritchie, who formerly served as chair of the Department of Pharmacology, made major contributions toward an understanding of the conduction of impulses in the peripheral nerve, in particular the distribution of sodium and potassium channels in both myelinated and unmyelinated fibers. He also worked for several years on the production of heat in nerves. He conducted significant research on demyelinating disease and the changes in ion channel density and conduction that accompany it. He was the first to show that satellite cells, in both the peripheral and central nervous systems, expressed voltage-gated ion channels.

A native of Scotland, Ritchie earned a B.S. in math and physics from the University of Aberdeen in 1944. During World War II, he worked at Malvern Hills in the south of England as part of Nobel Laureate A.V. Hill’s team that was instrumental in the development of radar. After the war, Ritchie followed Hill to University College London (UCL), where Hill formed the world’s first department of biophysics. Ritchie was granted a B.S. in physiology in 1949, a Ph.D. in biophysics in 1952 and a D.Sc. in biophysics in 1960, all from UCL.

In the early 1960s, Ritchie and his wife, Brenda, immigrated to the United States, where he joined the Department of Pharmacology at Albert Einstein Medical School. In 1968 he was recruited to Yale as the chair of pharmacology. At Yale, he also served as director of medical studies in pharmacology for 30 years, was director of the interdepartmental neuroscience program, and was a member of many University committees. He continued to conduct his own experiments until his retirement in 2000 at the age of 75.

Ritchie was a founding member of the Society for Neuroscience. He received many honors, including being elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1976.

He was also a passionate skier.

In addition to his wife, Ritchie is survived by his son, Alasdair, and his daughter, Jocelyn.

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