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Maurice M. Rapport, Ph.D.

Maurice M. Rapport, Ph.D., professor emeritus of biochemistry & molecular biophysicsand a longtime member of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, where he was former chief of the neuroscience division, died Aug. 18, 2011.

Dr. Rapport joined NYSPI in 1968 as chief of pharmacology and professor of biochemistry at P&S. The following year the biological divisions at the Institute were reorganized and in 1969 Dr. Rapport became chief of the new division of neuroscience, combining the old divisions of chemistry, pharmacology, and bacteriology. Dr. Rapport remained at NYSPI until 1985, when he moved to Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Dr. Rapport was best known for isolating serotonin from blood and then determining its structure to be 5-hydroxy-tryptamine. This led to chemical synthesis by several drug companies and made possible extensive physiological, pharmacological, and biochemical studies throughout the world that established serotonin as a major neurotransmitter.

Dr. Rapport also achieved a number of substantial accomplishments in the medical fields of cardiovascular disease, connective tissue disease, demyelination, and cancer. One of his contributions involved the immunological activity of lipids in relation to lipid structures. He solved two of the four classical problems recognized in this area by isolating cytolipin H, a lactosyl ceramide, from human cancer tissue and by showing that galactocerebroside, a major lipid component of the brain, was the long-sought brain-specific antigen. Dr. Rapport then showed a general relation between glycosphingolipid structure and immunological activity by isolating two complex glycosphingolipids and by studying antibodies to gangliosides. These antibodies were also useful as pharmacological tools for studying the relationship of these substances to animal behaviors.

A recent award to Dr. Rapport from the Serotonin Club acknowledged his contribution to the field of serotonin research: “As one of the original investigators who discovered the vasoconstrictor substance that became known as serotonin, your many scientific contributions have left an overwhelming imprint on the field. Your name and your work will always be a historical part of the field of serotonin investigation.”

Dr. Rapport died peacefully at the home of his daughter, having lived long enough to enjoy the arrival of his first great-granddaughter.

New York Times obituary.