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April 1, 1974

Prostaglandins—tour d'horizon

JAMA. 1974;228(1):76. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230260050027

More than two centuries ago, Theophile de Bordeau (1722-1766) expressed the belief that every organ and tissue produces substances that are discharged into the blood to affect other parts of the body. This notion, which must have seemed far-fetched to his contemporaries, appears to us now as an intuitive perception. Apart from hormones secreted by well-demarcated, specialized organs, we recognize that substances with more diffuse sources in numerous tissues and organs affect many parts. One such group of substances are the prostaglandins.

Slow to get started—their name dates back to 1935—the prostaglandins are now in the foreground of medical research. Though in many areas our understanding of these biologically active cyclic fatty acids still hovers between hypothesis and confirmed theory, prostaglandins have already found a place in certain clinical situations.

The known stimulating action of prostaglandins on the uterus permits their intra-amniotic instillation for terminating pregnancy in midterm. They can