Robert M. Berne

45th APS President (1972-1973)
Robert M. Berne
(b. 1918)

Beginning his past president's address with a three-stanza limerick, Berne referred to his two predecessors in a line that ran,"Barger, Brobeck, and Berne As President they each had a term .. ." and concluded: Barger, Brobeck and Berne Can never ever return, The rules on election Make no exception So now it is Tosteson's turn.

Of greater significance, however, Berne was first in a succession of three graduates of Harvard Medical School who served as presidents of APSBerne, Tosteson, and Guyton. If not for the intervention of Brobeck, the string would have included four in a row, beginning with Barger.

Born in Yonkers, New York, Berne attended the University of North Carolina (A.B., 1939) in preparation for his professional education at Harvard. On graduation he interned at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, was an assistant resident for nine months, and then served for two years mostly as battalion surgeon with an infantry unit of the U.S. Army. On his discharge from military service he returned to Mount Sinai as resident in medicine for a little more than a year (1947-48) and then transferred to the Department of Physiology at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, for training in cardiovascular research under Carl J. Wiggers (21st president of APS, 1949-50). After deciding to stay longer in physiology, Berne became progressively assistant professor (1952-55), associate professor (1955-61), and professor (1961-66) in Wigger's department. From 1957 to 1966 he held also an appointment in the Department of Medicine. A sabbatical leave in 1959-60 took him to the laboratory of E. C. Slater in Amsterdam, Holland, while another in 1965-66 found him with G. V. R. Born at the Royal College of Surgeons in London, England.

In response to questions about how he decided to become a physiologist, Berne wrote:
"After graduation from medical school, serving some time in the military, and receiving excellent clinical training in internal medicine, I decided to become a cardiologist. To prepare for such a career I felt it necessary to obtain some basic science training in cardiovascular physiology. In this regard I was fortunate in obtaining a postdoctoral fellowship in physiology with Carl J. Wiggers at Western Reserve Medical School. My original expectation was to spend one to two years with Dr. Wiggers doing basic research and then return to a clinical cardiology setting. As things developed, I became so engrossed in, and excited by, the research that I kept postponing my pursuit of cardiology. . . . Since I really enjoyed internal medicine, I occasionally now wonder what would have happened had I chosen the clinical route."

Following on this early interest in cardiology, Berne's research career has continued what he began with Wiggers. He has written:

"My main research interests have been in cardiovascular physiology, in general, and in the local chemical regulation of tissue blood flow, in particular. For years our attention has been focused on adenosine as the primary mediator of metabolically induced increases in blood flow. . . . In the course of our studies we have utilized several biochemical tools, cell culture techniques, and electron microscopy, as well as more conventional physiological procedures in an attempt to define the role of adenosine and to understand how it elicits vasodilation. . . . The nucleoside has been shown to be of importance as a possible neurotransmitter and an inhibitor of pre- and postsynaptic impulse transmission. Also there are membrane adenosine receptors in the brain and in other tissues, and their full physiological function remains to be elucidated."

Berne's first publication (1) in a major refereed journal appeared in 1950, in collaboration with M. N. Levy, on renal circulation in dogs with reduced cardiac output. He soon turned his attention to the hypothesis that coronary blood flow is controlled by local concentrations of adenosine (2). This work has led to a continuing series of papers (e.g., ref. 3), including reports that adenosine is involved in control of blood flow in skeletal muscle (4), brain (6), and kidney (7), at least with reduced oxygen supply. By 1980 Berne and his associates were able to demonstrate changes in myocardial adenosine concentration within a single cardiac cycle (8). In 1982 they showed that adenosine release from the hearts of unanesthetized dogs correlated well with coronary blood flow and myocardial oxygen consumption during physiological stimuli (10). Two years later, with the use of dipyridamole, a drug that blocks adenosine uptake, they observed that under a variety of interventions, cardiac adenosine release and coronary blood flow were closely related but independent of myocardial oxygen consumption, a finding in support of the adenosine hypothesis for the regulation of coronary blood flow (12). After studying the possible contribution of adenosine to disturbances of the conduction system of the heart (9), they found that adenosine could be used therapeutically for treatment of supraventricular tachycardia in human patients (11).

This lifelong interest in the cardiovascular system has been expressed outside the laboratory and classroom in the associations and societies in which Berne has participated, including APS (see later). He is a member of the Microcirculatory Society and served on its Council (1971-72). For AHA he has been a member of the Councils on Basic Science, on Circulation, and on Hypertension, as well as of the Committee on Medical Education (1963-65), the Executive Committee of the Council on Basic Science (1965-68), chairman of the Publications Committee (1981-85), and a member of the Board of Directors (1979-80 and 1983-85). He served as a member of the Editorial Board of Circulation Research for five years (1962-67), as editor for another five years (1970-75), and then again on the Editorial Board (1975-). For NIH, the National Heart Institute, and later the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute he has provided counsel on numerous evaluation committees. For Annual Review of Physiology, Berne was a member of the Editorial Committee (1976-81), an associate editor (1982), and an editor (1983-). He has also been, at various times, advisor to NAS (1963); the National Board of Medical Examiners (1969-71 and 1983-85); AAMC (1974, 1975-79, and 1977-80); the Ciba Foundation (1975-77); the Alfred I. DuPont Institute in Wilmington, Delaware (1978-82); AAAS (1980-); the Hazen (1984-) and the Pew (1984-) Award Committees; and other regional and local organizations.

As a member of ACDP, Berne served as president in 1970-71. Later (1978-79) he was chairman of the Council of Academic Societies of AAMC. He has received the honorary degree doctor of science from the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo (1973); the Carl J. Wiggers Award (1976); the Physiology Teaching Award of the ACDP; and the Research Achievement Award (1979), the Award of Merit, and the Gold Heart Award (1985) from AHA. In 1982 he was chosen for distinguished service membership in AAMC. Berne is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and in 1979 was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine of NAS.

When he was elected as councillor of APS in 1970 and as president elect the following year, Berne had already been a member of the APS Program Committee (1962-65), section editor for circulation for the American Journal of Physiology (1964-65), and a member of the Finance Committee (1967-70) and the Steering Committee of the Circulation Group (1969-72). Later he was reappointed to the Finance Committee (1975-76), served for four years on the Editorial Board of American Journal of Physiology (1976-80), on the Publications Committee (1976-82), on the Perkins Award Committee (1977-80), as chairman of the Long-Range Planning Task Force (1980-84), and as a member of the Long-Range Planning Committee (1984-). He was a member of the Steering Committee for revision of the cardiovascular section of the Handbook of Physiology and editor of volume I on the heart, published in 1979.

Procedures by which APS conducts its affairs probably changed more during Berne's presidential years than at any other time in recent history. Traditionally any item that required decision by the membership of the Society had been considered at the annual business meeting held during the spring assembly of FASEB. In consequence, election of president elect and councillors usually involved only the 150 to 300 members in attendance and voting at these sessions. Berne first undertook an informal mail poll of members as to their preference and then successfully sponsored amendments to the bylaws that initiated elections by mail. In the first such election (1975) 1,677 ballots were returned, representing about forty-four percent of the members eligible to vote. At the same time he began the publication of annual reports of officers and committees in The Physiologist, rather than verbally at the annual business meeting.

A second change concerned fall meetings. From their inception in 1948, these had been held in academic centers, at universities or medical schools, usually in a month convenient for family vacations of the membership. Another survey initiated by Berne showed a significant preference for meetings held later in the fall and in cities, but because the ballots were almost evenly split between these two options, it was decided to have on-campus and in-city fall meetings in alternate years.

Perhaps even more apparent, however, to officers and members alike was a third change. The end of the calendar year marked the end of Ray G. Daggs' years of service as executive secretary-treasurer and the beginning of the tenure of Orr E. Reynolds in that office. To recognize the innumerable and invaluable contributions Ray Daggs had made to the Society, Berne announced at the annual meeting held in Atlantic City on 17 April 1973 the establishment of the Ray G. Daggs Award "to be presented beginning next year to a physiologist who is judged to have provided distinguished service to the science of physiology and to the American Physiological Society."

In making this announcement, Berne quoted from a telegram received from Alan Burton (29th president, 1956-57) to indicate how each president came to evaluate Daggs' assistance: "Using his great sense of humor, integrity and reasonableness, Ray Daggs steered and successfully managed a succession of ignorant and opinionated Presidents . . ." (Physiologist 16: 111, 1973).

Among other departures from tradition that marked Berne's presidency was the appointment of a Task Force on Women in Physiology, with M. Elizabeth Tidball of George Washington University as chairperson. The task force made its first report at the Atlantic City Meeting held the following April (Physiologist 17: 135-137, 1974). By 1974 the Society had its first woman as president elect, Bodil M. Schmidt-Nielsen.

The concern Berne felt for the well-being of APS is clearly seen in his past president's address:

"My concern was essentially two-fold. Looking internally at the present membership, I wondered if the APS was meeting the needs of all its members, or at least of the majority. . . . Looking externally, I wondered about the relationship of the Society to the Federation and beyond that to the total pursuit of basic scientific knowledge in the world today."

More thoroughly than most similar speeches, Berne's address outlines the events that had brought the Society to 1973 and his thoughtful analysis of how he had tried to respond to needs and to opportunities. Reading what he wrote leaves one with at least a mild disappointment that a president "can never, ever return."

Selected Publications

1. Berne, R. M., and M. N. Levy. Effect of acute reduction of cardiac output on renal circulation of the dog. J. Clin. Invest. 29: 444-454, 1950.

2. Berne, R. M. Cardiac nucleotides in hypoxia: possible role in regulation of coronary blood flow. Am. J. Physiol. 204: 317-322, 1963.

3. Katori, M., and R. M. Berne. Release of adenosine from anoxic hearts. Circ. Res. 19: 420-425, 1966.

4. Dobson, J. G., Jr., R. Rubio, and R. M. Berne. Role of adenine nucleotides, adenosine, and inorganic phosphate in the regulation of skeletal muscle blood flow. Circ. Res. 29: 375-384, 1971.

5. Berne, R. M. Past-president's address. The American Physiological Society---a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Physiologist 16: 511-519, 1973.

6. Berne, R. M., R. Rubio, and R. R. Curnish. Release of adenosine from ischemic brain: effect on cerebral vascular resistance and incorporation into cerebral adenine nucleotides. Circ. Res. 35: 262-271, 1974.

7. Miller, W. L., R. A. Thomas, R. M. Berne, and R. Rubio. Adenosine production in the ischemic kidney. Circ. Res. 43: 390-397, 1978.

8. Thompson, C. I., R. Rubio, and R. M. Berne. Changes in adenosine and glycogen phosphorylase activity during the cardiac cycle. Am. J. Physiol. 238 (Heart Circ. Physiol. 7): H389-H398, 1980.

9. Belardinelli, L., F. L. Belloni, R. Rubio, and R. M. Berne. Atrioventricular conduction disturbances during hypoxia: possible role of adenosine in rabbit and guinea pig heart. Circ. Res. 47: 684-691, 1980.

10. Bacchus, A. N., S. W. Ely, R. M. Knabb, R. Rubio, and R. M. Berne. Adenosine and coronary blood flow in conscious dogs during normal physiological stimuli. Am. J. Physiol. 243 (Heart Circ. Physiol. 12): H628-R633, 1982.

11. DiMarco, J. P., T. D. Sellers, R. M. Berne, G. A. West, and L. Belardinelli. Adenosine: electrophysiologic effects and therapeutic use for terminating paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia. Circulation 68: 1254-1263, 1983.

12. Knabb, R. M., J. M. Gidday, S. W. Ely, R. Rubio, and R. M. Berne. Effects of dipyridamole on myocardial adenosine and active hyperemia. Am. J. Physiol. 247 ( Heart Circ. Physiol. 16): H804-H810, 1984.