William Smith, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus, Biological Chemistry

Ofc: 4301B MSRB III

1150 W. Medical Center Drive

Ann Arbor, MI  48109-5606


(734) 647-3996


Biological Chemistry, Medical School

Areas of Interest

Our laboratory studies nutritionally essential fatty acids, prostaglandins and cyclooxygenases in inflammation, thrombosis and colon cancer. We are particularly interested in the regulation of cyclooxygenases by fish oil omega-3 fatty acids and by nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen and celecoxib.

Aspirin, ibuprofen, celebrex and other NSAIDs block the biosynthesis of prostaglandins by inhibiting the cyclooxygenases (COXs) that catalyze the first step in prostaglandin formation. Prostaglandins are formed from omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, both of which are essential nutrients.

Prostaglandins function as "local" hormones that act at or near their sites of synthesis without traversing the circulation, to coordinate intra-organ physiological processes that typically involve the participation of two or more different cell types. One example is the interaction between blood platelets and vascular endothelial cells that occurs in hemostasis. Platelets produce a prostaglandin called thromboxane that causes platelet aggregation and vasoconstriction whereas the vasculature forms another prostaglandin called prostacyclin that counter-balances the effects of platelet-derived thromboxane. Aspirin is used to prevent coronary thrombosis because aspirin attenuates the overproduction of platelet thromboxane. A nutriceutical regimen that involves increased consumption of fish oil is also known to attenuate prostaglandin formation. Dietary fish oil may be useful in preventing colon cancer. We are collaborating with clinical investigators in the UM Cancer Center in addressing this topic.

At a more biochemical level, my group studies mechanistic aspects of COX-1 and COX-2. Over the years, our group was the first to purify and clone COX-1, to show that COX-1 and COX-2 are pharmacologically distinct, to delineate the molecular basis for the action of aspirin and to determine the x-ray structures of fatty acid substrates in the cyclooxygenase active site. Most recently, we have discovered that while COXs are homodimers based on primary sequence and crystal structures, they exhibit half sites activity--only one monomer catalyzes a COX reaction at any one time. Thus, COXs operate as conformational heterodimers.

Finally, we have been trying to understand why there is a need for two COX isoforms, and more specifically, how COX-2 can function independently of COX-1 when the isoforms are co-expressed in the same cell. Recently, we found that COX-1 and COX-2 function in different subcellular compartments.

Honors & Awards

2012  Distinguished Faculty Lectureship, University of Michigan
2007  Olsen Lectureship, St. Louis University
2006  Hayaishi Lectureship, Hamamatsu University, Japan
2006  William C. Rose Award, American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
2004  Avanti Award, American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
2004  Berzelius Lectureship, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm
2004  State of Michigan Scientist of the Year Award
2004  AAAS Fellow (Medical Sciences)
2003-present  University Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University
2001-2003  University Distinguished Professor, Michigan State University
1999  Michigan Universities Association of Governing Boards Award
1997  Senior Aspirin Award, Bayer Corporation
1996  Abraham White Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award, George Washington University
1995-2003  National Institutes of Health MERIT Award
1992  Distinguished Faculty Award, Michigan State University
1991  Treadwell Award, George Washington University
1989  Research Excellence Award, Golden Key Honor Society, Michigan State University
1987-1995  National Institutes of Health MERIT Award
1981-1986  American Heart Association Established Investigator
1981  Faculty Teaching Award in Osteopathic Medicine, Michigan State University

Published Articles or Reviews

Recent Publications

Higher baseline expression of the PTGS2 gene and greater decreases in total colonic fatty acid content predict greater decreases in colonic prostaglandin-E2 concentrations after dietary supplementation with ω-3 fatty acids.
Wilson MJ, Sen A, Bridges D, Turgeon DK, Brenner DE, Smith WL, Ruffin MT 4th, Djuric Z.
Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2018; 139: 14-19.

Structural basis for selective inhibition of Cyclooxygenase-1 (COX-1) by diarylisoxazoles mofezolac and 3-(5-chlorofuran-2-yl)-5-methyl-4-phenylisoxazole (P6).
Cingolani G, Panella A, Perrone MG, Vitale P, Di Mauro G, Fortuna CG, Armen RS, Ferorelli S, Smith WL, Scilimati A.
Eur J Med Chem. 2017; 138: 661-68.

Effects of fish oil supplementation on prostaglandins in normal and tumor colon tissue: modulation by the lipogenic phenotype of colon tumors.
Djuric Z, Aslam MN, Simon BR, Sen A, Jiang Y, Ren J, Chan R, Soni T, Rajendiran TM, Smith WL, Brenner DE.
J Nutr Biochem. 2017; 46: 90-99.

Fatty Acid Binding to the Allosteric Subunit of Cyclooxygenase-2 Relieves a Tonic Inhibition of the Catalytic Subunit.
Dong L, Yuan C, Orlando BJ, Malkowski MG, Smith WL.
J Biol Chem. 2016; 291: 25641-55.

Interactions of 2-O-arachidonylglycerol ether and ibuprofen with the allosteric and catalytic subunits of human COX-2.
Dong L, Zou H, Yuan C, Hong YH, Uhlson CL, Murphy RC, Smith WL.
J Lipid Res. 2016; 57: 1043-50.

Different Fatty Acids Compete with Arachidonic Acid for Binding to the Allosteric or Catalytic Subunits of Cyclooxygenases to Regulate Prostanoid Synthesis.
Dong L, Zou H, Yuan C, Hong YH, Kuklev DV, Smith WL.
J Biol Chem. 2016; 291: 4069-78.

For a list of publications from Michigan Research Experts, click HERE