Conway Review Lecture 1984

17/09/1984 in Cork

Ammonia Metabolism During Acid – Base Disturbance

Professor D. J. O’Donovan, Department of Physiology, University College, Galway

I am very honoured to be requested to deliver this Conway Review lecture, which is the 8th in the series. An annual lecture is just a token tribute to a man who did so much to further the advancement of science. He put Ireland on the map of biological science and it is heart-warming when you mention Ireland in scientific circles abroad that the name ‘Conway’ is immediately mentioned.  From then onwards you feel that, although you failed to emulate him in the laboratory, you at least share something in common with this great man.

Although I never worked in Conway’s laboratory, I feel that my research has been closer to his interests than many who did. I first met him in 1963, on a brief visit home from the United States. I was very touched by the fact that he was familiar with some of my work. At least he pretended he was. I then began to wonder that maybe he was a good politician as well as a scientist!

The topic I propose to consider is very broad and many aspects of it have been reviewed (Meister, 1956; Pitts, 1964; Balagura-Baruch, 1971; Tannen, 1978, 1983; Kovacevic and McGivan, 1983; Tannen and Sastrasinh, 1984). Here I will endeavour to link what at various times was considered to be a number of unrelated subjects into a unifying theme. Scientific progress has often been hindered by an erroneous assumption at the outset. It is very rewarding to find that the urinary excretion of ammonia was early assigned to its rightful role of regulating acid-base balance. (Henderson, 1911 ) rather than the more obvious choice of nitrogen equilibrium. We shall see later that recent evidence, demonstrates a role for ammonia in nitrogen metabolism in addition to its primary role of assisting the disposal of hydrogen ions by the renal tubules.

Ammonia metabolism during acid-base disturbance