Akira (Aki) Horita, Professor Emeritus, Department of Pharmacology
On April 23, 2023, Akira (Aki) Horita, Professor Emeritus, died peacefully at his home at the age of 94. He was one of the earliest faculty members in the Department of Pharmacology and a significant contributor to its growth and excellence for over 42 years. The accompanying picture (with an Apple IIe in the background), was probably taken shortly before his retirement in 1996.
In 1950, Aki received a BA in Zoology from the UW. He became a graduate student, following encouragement from James M. Dille (founding Chairman of the Department of Pharmacology). A Master’s Thesis (1951) was followed by a Ph.D. Dissertation and appointment as an Instructor in 1954. Aki took a leave of absence to serve in the Armed Forces. In 1958, He became an Assistant Professor and rose through the ranks to Full Professor of Pharmacology. In 1973, he was also appointed Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
As a pioneer of research in neuropharmacology, Horita established a fundamental understanding of autonomic and central nervous system phenomena. Early works included studies of ‘amphetamine anaphylaxis,’ the pyretogenic effects of LSD (before it became a Schedule I drug), and exploration of the roles of monoamine oxidase (MAO) and MAO inhibitors. From the 1950s until the mid-1990s, he published articles dealing with the effects of neurotransmitters, neurohormones, and drugs, including psychedelics and so-called drugs of abuse.
By 1996 when he retired, Aki had over 200 publications listed in the Scopus database and had mentored more graduate students than any of his contemporary colleagues. He was a major intellectual mentor for all the graduate students in the Department, whether they worked in his lab or not. On multiple occasions, Aki and his wife, Lillian, hosted evening discussions for graduate students from any lab in the Department. Those discussions about science, careers, postdoctoral positions, and the stresses of graduate school were important to all who were privileged to attend.
Aki excelled at teaching medical students for many years. He won multiple awards as Outstanding Basic Science Teacher. After retirement, he continued teaching and contributed to a variety of programs, including, Making Connections: “Expanding our Web, Behavior Nursing” 2001-2002, on Addiction: “Hijacking the Brain” Summer Institute 2003, and the Gear UP Project of the College of Arts and Sciences 2003.
In addition to excellence in research, teaching Akira Horita served twice as the Department’s Acting Chairman (1972-1975 & 1983-1984). His calm, stable leadership held the Department together during two separate searches for permanent Chairmen, Edwin Krebs and William Catterall, respectively.
In the days before there were discussions about ‘work-life balance’, Aki understood such issues. Thus, he is survived by his wife of many years, two children, and a much beloved granddaughter. We who knew him will miss him dearly. Hopefully, those who did not know him will have some sense of his multiple contributions to science, the Department of Pharmacology, the School of Medicine, and the University of Washington.