Monday, July 17, 2017

1909: Pituitrin tried for asthma and hay fever

Pituitrini was an extract of the bovine pituitary gland.  Along with other uses,
it was trialed for asthma by various physicians, and with success, around
1909 and 1910. The medicine was provided by Park-Davis & Co. out
of Detroit, Michigan in one-ounce glass stopper bottles and glaseptic
  ampoules (ready for immediate hypodermic injection) as seen here. (2)
Another medicine that was trialed for asthmatics around the 1910s was a medicine called Pituitrin. It was an extract of bovine pituitary gland containing oxytocin and vasopressin, and being a relatively new medicine it garnered much attention among the medical community. As with other new medicines, it was trialed for various purposes, including asthma. 

The medicine "has been somewhat extensively used for the past two or three years," by European physicians for its Oxycontin effect on some pregnant women to help strengthen labor and reduce bleeding.  (1) It does this by constricting blood vessels.  It also is a bronchodilator, and for this reason, it was trialed on asthmatics.

In 1919 the Therapeutic Notes reported the following:
The fact that Pituitrin has an Adrenalin-like action, and the fact that this action is more prolonged than that of the suprarenal active principle, has suggested its utility in the treatment of asthma and hay-fever. It has been tested clinically by leading practitioners, who pronounce it a valuable drug in these diseases. Some opinions are here given:
 "One of my asthmatic patients has experienced great relief from the use of Pituitrin.""I have used Pituitrin in two cases of hay-fever with satisfactory results. While ischemia is accomplished less slowly it seems to last much longer; one patient who experienced great irritation from the use of Adrenalin says that the Pituitrin is almost without any irritating effect.'' 
"I have one case of asthma which was relieved by the use of Pituitrin; it is also of a great deal of use in the treatment of hay-fever." 
"A case of hay-fever treated with Pituitrin in normal salt solution (1:3) showed decided relief. I found that its. action was slower, more prolonged and less irritating than Adrenalin, and no after-congestion resulted as in the case of the latter." 
"I used Pituitrin daily in one case of hay-fever, employing the undiluted solution so as to give the hardest possible test as to its irritation. There was no irritation and the relief was perfect.'
"When used in a 10-per-cent normal saline solution the results were very satisfactory."
 It's very common throughout human history to find a medicine experimented with in this fashion, and this continues to this day.  Also, in the 1970s a medicine called terbutaline was approved for asthma as a rescue medicine, and it was ultimately more commonly used to delay pregnancies.

Probably due to the success of adrenaline, pituitrin never caught on as an asthma medicine.  Yet it provided another option for physicians and asthmatics when such an option was necessary.


  1. "Pituitin in difficult parturition," Medial Review, June, 1912, Volume 61, Issue 6, Picture is from an advertisement that follows the article paid for by Park-Davis & Co.
  2. "Pituitrin in Hay fever and asthma," Therapeutic Notes, Volumes 17 and 18, Park-Davis & Co., 1909 and 1910, page 70.
Further reading

  1. article on pollen and hay fever

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