Biochemical Journal classic papers
clear that the first isolation and characterization of
ascorbic acid during Szent-Györgyi’s doctoral
research paved the way for much of the progress
made by the research community. His large-scale
isolation of the compound and his sharing of it with
other researchers was an incredible catalyst for fast
progress in the understanding of this fickle vitamin.
Some 75 years later, vitamin C still offers many
challenges to researchers. We still struggle with its
instability, are learning the details of its biochemi-
cal functions, are dealing with controversy because
we do not understand fully its pro- and anti-oxi-
dant actions, as well as all of its biochemical func-
tions and are learning new aspects of its potential
It will continue to be a subject of controversy and
research for many years to come and many of
its mysteries remain to be uncovered. These classic
papers in the Biochemical Journal
foundation for the research on vitamin C in the
1920s and 1930s
, as well as for continuing work
in the modern era
The Biochemist — October 2006.
2006 Biochemical Society
1. Szent-Györgyi, A. (1928) CLXXIII. Observations on the function of peroxidase systems and the chemistry
of the adrenal cortex. Description of a new carbohydrate derivative. Biochem. J. 22, 1387–1409
2. Svirbely, J.L. and Szent-Györgyi,A. (1932) CV. The chemical nature of vitamin C. Biochem. J. 26,865–870
3. Svirbely, J.L. and Szent-Györgyi,A. (1933) XL. The chemical nature of vitamin C. Biochem. J. 27,279–285
4. Banga, I. and Szent-Györgyi, A. (1934) CCXIV. The large scale preparation of ascorbic acid from
Hungarian pepper. Biochem J
5. Haworth,W.H., Hirst, E.L. and Reynolds R.J.W. (1932) Letters to the editor on: hexuroinc acid as the
antiscorbutic factor. Nature (London) 129,576–577
6. Haworth,W.H. and Hirst, E.L. (1933) Synthesis of ascorbic acid. Chem. Ind. (London) 52, 645–647
7. Szent-Györgyi, A. and Haworth,W.H. (1933) Hexuronic acid (ascorbic acid) as the antiscorbutic factor.
Nature (London) 131,24
8. Anon. (1988) The identification of vitamin C, an historical summary. J. Nutr. 118, 1290–1293
9. Buettner, G.R. (1988) In the absence of catalytic metals, ascorbate does not autoxidize at pH 7:
ascorbate as a test for catalytic metals. J. Biochem. Biophys. Meth
10. Asard, H., May, J.M. and Smirnoff, N. (eds) (2004) Vitamin C: Function and Biochemistry in Animals and
BIOS Scientific Publishers, London.
11. Packer, L. and Fuchs, J. (1997) Vitamin C in Health and Disease. Marcel Dekker, New York
12. Davis, M.B., Austin, J. and Partridge, D.A. (1991) Vitamin C: its Chemistry and Biochemistry. The Royal
Society of Chemistry, Cambridge
13. Chen, Q., Espey, M.G., Krishna, M.C. et al. (2005) Pharmacologic ascorbic acid concentrations selectively kills cancer
cells: action to deliver hydrogen peroxide to tissues. Proc. Natl.Acad. Sci. USA 102, 13604-–3609
Garry R. Buettner is a Professor in the
Free Radical and Radiation Biology
Program in the Department of
Radiation Oncology at The University
of Iowa. His interest in vitamin C
began when he was a postdoctoral fel-
low at The University of Iowa under
the supervision of Dr Larry Oberley.
Research on ascorbate has been a
component of his research pro-
gramme for over two decades.After a
brief period of teaching chemistry at
Wabash College, Crawfordsville, IN,
he became a Senior Fellow at the NIEHS and a Fulbright Scholar at the GSF
Research Institute in Munich, Germany. He joined The University of Iowa in
1988 where he set up the Electron Spin Resonance Core Facility. His
research has focused on basic mechanisms in free radical biology.
Websites that have excellent further reading on the life and career
of Professor Albert Szent-Györgyi and vitamin C
• The Nobel Prize website:http://nobelprize.org/medicine/laureates/1937/
• The National Institutes of Health profile of Professor Szent-Györgyi:http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/WG/
• An excellent overview of the historical aspects of vitamin C:http://www.cambridge.org/us/books/kiple/vitaminc.htm
Freya Q. Schafer is a Research
Scientist in the Free Radical and
Radiation Biology Program at The
University of Iowa. She received
her degree in human biology in 1993
at the University of Ulm in Germany.
She became involved in free radical
biology during her postdoctoral
studies at New Jersey Medical
College and the University of Maine.
Her interest in ascorbate is in
understanding its role as a biological
reducing agent, with respect to its
antioxidant action as well as the pro-oxidant actions of ascorbate.
Her interests range from fundamental aspects of redox biology to the
teaching of science and career development.
The Albert Lasker Award 1954
presented by the American Heart
Association to Albert Szent-Györgyi.