Albert Herz, 1921 – 2018

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Albert Herz, an outstanding neuropharmacologist and valued colleague, died peacefully on the 9th of November 2018 at the age of 97

November 12, 2018

Albert Herz began his career at the Theoretical Institute of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) of Psychiatry, now known as the MPI of Neurobiology, originally as a Research Group Leader in 1962 and later as head of the Department of Neuropharmacology. Together with his team, he investigated the mechanisms by which morphine and other opiates affect the brain. His findings clarified the basic mechanisms involved in drug addiction and are still applied in the fields of contemporary pain relief therapy (morphine) and addiction therapy (methadone), as well as in relation to the addictive potential of painkillers.

The isolation of morphine in the early 19th century gave doctors and other medical practitioners an incredibly powerful analgesic, which, however could rapidly lead to addiction if prescribed in the wrong dosages. Herz also conducted research into the effects of opiates in the context of incidences of morphine abuse. By the late 1960s, he succeeded in identifying the brain regions in which the pain regulating properties of morphine take effect - the periaqueductal grey within the midbrain. In addition, his team was able to demonstrate for the first time that morphine can inhibit the activity of individual nerve cells.

Herz achieved international renown on the basis of these results and other studies. In addition to his research into the function of opiates, he researched the neurobiology of other substances with morphine-like properties, the so-called opiates, and he was able to identify previously unknown opioids. His research demonstrated how opioids, which include the endorphins, can be influenced by pharmaceuticals, stress and pain.

In the context of his work relating to the role of opioids in pain processes, Herz and his colleagues were able to demonstrate the local effects of opioids in relation to inflammation pain for the first time. In addition, the same research provided important insights into the psychiatric aspects of opioids and the molecular mechanisms of opiate addiction. With their focus on opioid, pain and addiction research, the research group led by Albert Herz was unique within Europe at that time.

Herz was a straight talker and never shied away from scientific debates or political discussions; academic airs and graces were not his thing. Having grown up in the Oberallgäu region of Bavaria, he had taken part in numerous climbing and skiing tours with friends, which required the absolute mutual reliance and trust of all participants. These outings had a lasting influence on him and probably explain his determination and tenacity. He was an important mentor for many young researchers, including many from former Eastern Bloc countries, who could always rely on his scientific inspiration and personal support. The departmental garden parties remain unforgotten, the success of which was, no doubt, partially ascribable to the three children who were allowed to take part as well. His wife Marliese, who died too early back in 2001, was a great support to him in all circumstances and did everything she could to ensure that his many guests and colleagues experienced the department as one big family.

We would like to thank Albert Herz for the 50 years and more during which he first shaped and later diligently supported the institute. He will remain in our memories and will continue to be a role model to us all.


Albert Herz was born as the son of a businessperson in Sonthofen, Bavaria, on the 5th of June 1921. He studied medicine at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich, where he obtained his doctorate in 1948. He then went on to work in pathology, internal medicine and at the LMU’s Pharmaceutical Institute and qualified as a university professor in the fields of pharmacology and toxicology. In 1962, Herz moved to the Theoretical Institute of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) of Psychiatry, where he was appointed Director of the Neuropharmacological Department in 1972. Herz’ department relocated to the Martinsried Campus in 1984 together with the Theoretical Institute. The Theoretical Institute was elevated to the independent MPI of Neurobiology in 1998. As of 1989, Albert Herz became an Emeritus Scientific Member of the institute.

Herz received numerous awards for his research, including the Nathan B. Eddy Memorial Award from the College on Problems of Drug Dependence (CPDD), an honorary doctorate from the Medical Academy in Warsaw, membership of the Leopoldina German National Academy of Sciences and honorary membership of the German Association of Pain Studies, the Work Group for Neuro-Psychiatry and Pharmacology (AGNP) and the Deutschen Schmerzgesellschaft e.V (German Pain Society). In 1969, Herz founded the International Organization for Narcotics Research (INRC).

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