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December 2001

Arnold J. Friedhoff, MD (1924-2001)

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2001;58(12):1177. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.58.12.1177

Arnold J. Friedhoff, a leader in the development of a scientific, biologically based psychiatry, died on February 21, 2001, at the age of 77 years. It is difficult to communicate to the present generation what the world of psychiatry was like in 1953 when Arnold Friedhoff arrived at New York University (NYU) as a second-year resident. There was only one theory of psychopathology that was considered sound, and it was psychoanalytic. The psychiatrists who dominated academia were either psychoanalysts or psychoanalytically oriented. Those few psychiatrists who had a biologically based interest were primarily relegated to state hospitals and institutions that were seen by the academics as second class. For a young psychiatrist to commit the rest of his professional life to an approach that was treated with disdain took incredible courage and integrity. These qualities remained present in Arnold Friedhoff throughout his professional life.

Arnold J. Friedhoff, MD

Arnold J. Friedhoff, MD

For almost 50 years he worked tirelessly to make psychiatry into an applied neuroscience. This was done not only in his laboratory but through individuals he trained and the colleagues he recruited to work with him at NYU. Amongst the giants who joined with Arnold Friedhoff were Menek Goldstein and Samuel Gershon. It was an extraordinary group at a critical time who helped to move empirical psychiatry into the pantheon of reproducible science.

It should also be noted that Arnold, along with his colleagues, did not disdain a psychodynamic understanding of the individual but attempted to add a biological dimension. This addition enriched rather than competed with that understanding. If others had followed this effort to blend dynamic and biological understanding, the post–World War II schisms could have been prevented. (Parenthetically, this is very much in keeping with a wish expressed by Sigmund Freud that the neurophysiologists would complete his mentalist approach.)

Arnold always worked at the basic-applied interface and never chose easy topics to study. The pioneering work of Arvid Carlsson demonstrating that dopamine was a neurotransmitter affected by antipsychotic drugs led Arnold to notice the chemical similarity between dopamine and the hallucinogen mescaline. Arnold found a dimethoxy derivative of phenethylamine (3,4-dimethoxyphenylethylamine) in the urine of schizophrenic patients. This finding was published in 1962 in Nature and resulted in a firestorm of premature publicity. The excessive excitement ultimately was injurious to the field as well as to Arnold. Nevertheless, he continued to study the metabolism of dopamine and his laboratory was the first to demonstrate that L-dopa could be helpful in the reduction of some symptoms of Parkinson disease. He continued to study dopamine in schizophrenia and Tourette syndrome. Gradually his interests shifted to compensatory brain systems and their role in adaptation. This logically lead to the study of the effects of stress on neurochemical adaptation.

Arnold Friedhoff was in every sense a good citizen at NYU. He taught medical students and residents while mentoring predoctoral and postdoctoral candidates. He worked actively in the psychology internship program. He served as president of the NYU Faculty Council, senator on the University Senate, and chair of the Institutional Review Board. Arnold Friedhoff was deeply involved in leading and even creating many major psychiatric organizations. He was a founding fellow of the International Society of Neurochemistry, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, and the Psychiatric Research Society. He served as president of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the Society of Biologic Psychiatry, the American Psychopathological Association, and the National Tourette's Society. He was a recipient of numerous awards and honors. But perhaps no honor describes him better than the extraordinarily high esteem in which he was held by his colleagues. Arnold Friedhoff lived a life of generosity and will always be remembered with both affection and respect.