What is the mind?

dag.stenberg at helsinki.nospam.fi dag.stenberg at helsinki.nospam.fi
Mon Dec 7 03:31:50 EST 1998

In bionet.neuroscience F. Frank LeFever <flefever at ix.netcom.com> wrote:
> [Golgi] did indeed believe that the brain was a continuous net, but Ramon y
> Cajal (whose keen eye and prodigious visual memory has probably not
> been matched to this day) used Golgi's new technique to see fine
> juxtapositions and conclude that it was not a continuous net but was
> made up of separate components, i.e. neurons.  They shared the Nobel
> prize for this ironic "collaboration".

At the recent SFN meeting, and thanks to John S. Edwards of the
University of Washington, I learned that Ramon y Cajal was actually not
the first to publish facts forming what is called the Neuron Doctrine
(that the nervous system is formed of separate components, and is not 
a continuous reticulum).
  In the article by John S.Edwards and Roland Huntford: "Fridtjof Nansen:
from the neuron to the North Polar Sea", Endeavour 22:76-80, 1998, we
learn that Nansen, then a zoologist at the Museum in Bergen, Norway, 
went to learn the silver staining technique from Golgi at the University
of Pavia. Nansen had previously studied the invertebrate myzostoma, and
expressed doubts as to the validity of Golgi's reticular theory (Nansen,
F.: Bidrag till myzostomernes anatomi og histologi, Bergen Museum 1885).
Having learnt the Golgi technique, Nansen went to Naples, where he 
studied invertebrate and lower vertebrate nervous systems, and in the
resulting paper in the Bergen Museum Yearbook (Bergens Museums
Aarsberetning, pp. 55-78, 1885), he concludes that he has been unable
to demonstrate with certainty any anastomoses between different nerve
cells. In an article in Jenaische Zeitschrift für Naturwissenschaft
XXI:267-321, 1887, he emphasizes that nerve cells have their own
membranes, and they do not fuse which each other. A more complete
description is in the 1886 Yearbook: "Bergens Museums Aarsberetning for
1886", pp. 29-195, 1887, and in Nansens Ph.D. thesis "The Structure and
Combination of the Histological Elements of the Central Nervous System",
Nordisk medicinsk arkiv XIX:1-24, 1888, also published in German in
Anatomisch. Anzeig. III:157-169, 1888.
  Nansen thus seems to have been the first to demonstrate the
discontinuity between nerve cells. (He was also the first to discover
the bifurcation of spinal ganglia into an ascending and a descending
branch, and to postulate the ectodermal origin of Schwann cells). 
In May 1888, Santiago Ramon y Cajal published his first paper on the
independence of nerve cells (in Revista Trimestr. Histologia Normal y
Patologica, 1st May 1888, pp. 305-315). He states: 'each element is an
absolute autonomous physiological canton'. Ramon y Cajal was working on
the vertebrate nervous system.
  Ramon y Cajal is said to refer to Nansen's work only once, in 1891
(recognizing Nansen among authors who have confirmed the independence 
of neurons). But W.Waldeyer, who in 1891 coined the term "Neuron" (in
Berliner Klinische Wochenschrift XXVIII:691, 1891), does refer to 
Nansen's work.
  All this is from the abovementioned article by Edwards and Huntford,
and I am very grateful to Dr. Edwards for telling us this piece of the
History of Neuroanatomy, and for sending me a reprint.

Dag Stenberg
University of Helsinki, Finland

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