Ramón y Cajal Establishes the Neuron as the Functional Unit of the Nervous System (Great Events from History II: Science and Technology Series)
Article abstract: Ramón y Cajal showed that nerve cells operate as the discrete entities that transmit impulses unidirectionally in the nervous system through specific points of contact.
Summary of Event
In the late 1800’s, a controversy existed among brain scientists as to the nature of impulse transmission through the nervous system. The more popular school of thought began in 1872, when the gray matter of the cerebrum (brain) was described as a diffuse nerve net with fusion of dendrites (fine processes). Such notables as Theodor Meynert and Camillo Golgi agreed with this “reticular theory.” According to this theory, the proper impulses were directed somehow out from this network of fused fibers to the appropriate muscles and organs, much like the streams flowing out from a lake being directed to specific locations. A. H. Forel showed that retrograde degeneration was confined to the damaged cells, and Wilhelm His showed that in embryos the nerve cells behave as centers giving origin to fiber outgrowths. At the time, the physical evidence was inadequate for determining which theory was more correct. No one had been able to see, with any clarity, the nerve fiber endings. Yet, Santiago Ramón y Cajal was able to provide the irrefutable evidence that resolved the issue eventually.
Ramón y Cajal’s legacy was born of the microscope, an instrument he first became familiar with in 1877 while studying in...
(The entire section is 2020 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!