Robert W. Berliner

40th APS President (1967-1968)
Robert W. Berliner
(1915-2002)

Berliner's term as president of APS was unusual in a sense, unique. Most of that year's activities concerned preparation for the XXIV IUPS Congress to be held in Washington, D.C., 25-31 August 1968, with Wallace O. Fenn as president and chief organizer of the congress. Moreover there was no fall meeting following the congress. Consequently, Berliner was the only president of those serving since 1947 who as not called on to deliver a past president's address. He wrote that his year in office was uneventful, which can be interpreted to mean that many members of the Society, especially those located near the nation's capital, were preoccupied with planning for the congress and that the more mundane problems of APS were therefore given only routine consideration. Nevertheless it was while Berliner was president that the John Forbes Perkins, Jr., Memorial Fund in support of international exchanges in physiology was established.

From his birthplace in New York City, Berliner went to Yale for his undergraduate education (B.S., 1936). Three years later he was awarded his medical degree by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University (M.D., 1939). After an internship of two years at Presbyterian Hospital in New York, he completed his residency/fellowship training on the Third Division Research Service of Goldwater Memorial Hospital, also in New York (1942-47). For most of this interval (1943-47) he held also a junior appointment on the faculty of the New York University College of Medicine. This was followed by three years (1947-50) as assistant professor of medicine at Columbia.

In 1950 Berliner began an association with NIH that lasted for twenty-three years. He was at first (1950-62) the Chief of the Laboratory of Kidney and Electrolyte Metabolism of the National Heart Institute, where he soon became also Director of Intramural Research (1954-68). He left the National Heart Institute to become for one year (1968-69) the Director of Laboratories and Clinics for NIH and then served for four years (1969-73) as Deputy Director for Science of NIH. During much of this time (1951-73) he was concurrently a member of the faculty of the School of Medicine of George Washington University, eventually with the rank of professorial lecturer (1964-73). He resigned from this position and from NIH in 1973 to become dean and professor of physiology and of medicine at the School of Medicine of Yale University. In 1984 he retired from the deanship but continues as a member of the faculties in physiology and in medicine.

Berlliner was appointed to the Publications Committee of APS in 1961, where he served for five years (1961-66; chairman, 1963-66) and was reappointed for another term (1976-79). He joined the Council of APS in 1965 as president elect and continued there through his presidential years. He received the Ray G. Daggs Award in 1982. At various times he served as president of a variety of other scientific societies the American Society for Clinical Investigation (1959), the American Society for Nephrology (1968), and the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine (1978-81). In 1972 he was elected vice-president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Other societies in which he holds membership include the Society of General Physiologists, the Harvey Society, the Philosophical Society of Washington, and the Washington Academies of Medicine and of Sciences.

In 1958 Beliner was chosen for membership in the Association of American Physicians, in 1961 in AAAS (Boston), in 1968 in NAS, and in 1971 in the Institute of Medicine. He was chairman of the Division of Medical Sciences of NRC (1976-78), and for three years (1978-81) he was a member of the Council of NAS.

Most of the institutions and societies with which Berliner has been affiliated have awarded hm their highest honors. From the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) he received the Distinguished Service Award (1962). Three years later he was given the Homer W. Smith Award in Renal Physiology (1965). His medical school selected him for the Alumni Award for Distinguished Achievement in 1966, for the Bicentennial Medal for Achievements in Internal Medicine in 1967, and for the Joseph Mather Smith Prize in 1978. He had been honored by the Distinguished Achievement Award of Modern Medicine in 1969. This was followed by the AHA Research Achievement Award in 1970, the A. Ross McIntyre Award from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 1974, the Service Award of the Association of Chairmen of Departments of Physiology (ACDP) in 1981, the David M. Hume Memorial Award of the National Kidney Foundation in 1983, and the George M. Kober Medal of the Association of American Physicians in 1984. He has received honorary degrees of doctor of science from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and from Yale University, both in 1973.

Berliner's early research during World War II was concerned with antimalarial drugs (2). His lifelong specialty, however, has been the kidney, fluid, and electrolyte exchange. This interest was stimulated mainly by Robert F. Loeb while Berliner was a medical student and intern in Presbyterian Hospital, and later by James A. Shannon at Goldwater Memorial Hospital. "Bob" Loeb, son of Jacques Loeb, the prominent general physiologist, was Lambert Professor of Medicine at Columbia and associate attending physician at Presbyterian Hospital until Berliner joined the staff as assistant professor (1947). At that time Loeb became Director of the Medical Service and Bard Professor of Medicine. He was one of the leading clinical investigators of his generation and one of the most influential medical educators.

"Jim" Shannon became famous for his directorship of NIH. From 1942 to 1946, however, he was director of the Research Service at Goldwater Memorial Hospital where Berliner completed his formal training (1942-47). Shannon left New York to become Director of Research for the Squibb pharmaceutical enterprise and subsequently became Associate Director in Charge of Research at the National Heart Institute (1949-52). He then moved into administration at NIH central offices, where he became director in 1955. He is given credit for establishing many of the principles and guidelines that have brought NIH to its preeminent position in biomedical research. Shannon's interest in the kidney began in association with Homer Smith at the New York University College of Medicine early in the 1930s. In Smith's 1951 monograph, The Kidney (Oxford Univ. Press, New York), twenty-six items in the bibliography begin with Shannon's name.

Berliner has written of his research experience in the following account:
"My first major, independent work was probably my most important discovery potassium secretion by the renal tubules (4). The discovery was not accidental. We looked for indisputable evidence of secretion because of peculiarities of potassium excretion when the amount in the urine was far too low to indicate secretion by the usual criterion (i.e., excretion in excess of filtration). . . . In later years we demonstrated among other things that potassium is secreted in exchange for sodium. . . . A 1951 paper (5) pointed out the relationship between urine acidification and potassium excretion. Although the explanation was not entirely correct, it provided a useful working hypothesis. . . . The next paper (6) helped to define the relationship between urine pH and the excretion of weak acids and bases so-called nonionic diffusion. . . . Two of the papers cited (7, 8) showed that vasopressin is not required for production of hypertonic urine, if volume presented to the mechanism is small enough, and introduced a new hypothesis that although in error in not allowing for countercurrent multiplier character of the nephron loop, was first to point out that it is addition of salt to medullary interstitium that drives the urine concentration process and not water uptake by the loop. . . . On a somewhat different topic, Kety's inert gas method for measuring local blood flow was modified for continuous measurement (9). Application to the renal medulla showed high efficiency of the countercurrent exchange by the vasa recta (10). . . . The 1967 paper (11) was the first demonstration of the predicted difference in osmolality and salt concentration between thin limbs of the loop of Henle. . . . The last paper (12) was the first demonstration of the predicted difference between ascending and descending limbs of the loop of Henle in their permeability to water. Vasopressin acted only on collecting ducts."

Berliner's career as a physiologist has two remarkable characteristics. First, he was among the handful of investigators who came to correct conclusions about renal function before the discovery of the countercurrent concentrating mechanism and before the renaissance of micropuncture techniques. Yet when these developments occurred he utilized both to extend further the understanding of, especially, tubular mechanisms. Second, he continued productive laboratory research while simultaneously creating a distinguished record as an administrator of medical and educational institutions. He has demonstrated the efficiency and the efficacy of a relatively low-key, collegial approach to administrative responsibility.

Selected Publications

1. Perera, G. A., and R. W. Berliner. Relation of postural hemodilution to paroxysmal dyspnea. J. Clin. Invest. 22: 25-28, 1943.

2. Shannon, J. A., D. P. Earle, Jr., B. B. Brodie, J. V. Taggart, and R. W. Berliner. The pharmacological basis for the rational use of atabrine. J. Pharmacol. Exp. Ther. 81: 307- 330, 1944.

3. Earle, D. P., Jr., and R. W. Berliner. A simplified clinical procedure for measurement of glomerular filtration rate and renal plasma flow. Proc. Soc. Exp. Biol. Med. 62: 262-264, 1946.

4. Berliner, R. W., and T. J. Kennedy, Jr. Renal tubular secretion of potassium in the normal dog. Proc. Soc. Exp. Biol. Med. 67: 542-545, 1948.

5. Berliner, R. W., T. J. Kennedy, Jr., and J. Orloff. The relationship between acidification of the urine and potassium metabolism: effect of carbonic anhydrase inhibition on potassium excretion. Am. J. Med. 11: 274-282, 1951.

6. Orloff, J., and R. W. Berliner. The mechanism of the excretion of ammonia in the dog. J. Clin. Invest. 35: 223-235, 1956.

7. Berliner, R. W., and D. G. Davidson. Production of hypertonic urine in the absence of pituitary antidiuretic hormone. J. Clin. Invest. 36: 1416-1427, 1957.

8. Berliner, R. W., N. G. Levinsky, D. G. Davidson, and M. Eden. Dilution and concentration of the urine and the action of antidiuretic hormone. Am. J. Med. 24: 730-744, 1958.

9. Aukland, K., B. F. Bower, and R. W. Berliner. Measurement of local blood flow with hydrogen gas. Circ. Res. 14: 164-187, 1964.

10. Aukland, K., and R. W. Berliner. Renal medullary counter-current system studied with hydrogen gas. Circ. Res. 15: 430-442, 1964.

11. Jamison, R. L., C. M. Bennett, and R. W. Berliner. Countercurrent multiplication by the thin loops of Henle. Am. J. Physiol. 212: 357-366, 1967.

12. Morgan, T., and R. W. Berliner. Permeability of the long loop of Henle, vasa recta, and collecting duct to water, urea, and sodium. Am. J. Physiol. 215: 108-115, 1968.

13. Bennett, C. M., B. M. Brenner, and R. W. Berliner. Micropuncture study of nephron function in the rhesus monkey. J. Clin. Invest. 47: 203-216, 1968.

14. Falchuk, K. H., B. M. Brenner, M. Tadokoro, and R. W. Berliner. Oncotic and hydrostatic pressures in peritubular capillaries and fluid reabsorption by proximal tubule.Am. J. Physiol. 220: 1427-1433, 1971.