Books, Journals, New Media Section Editor: Harriet
S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA; Journal
Review Editor: Brenda L. Seago, MLS, MA, Medical College of Virginia Campus,
Virginia Commonwealth University.
During the last two decades of the 19th century, two theories competed
to describe how the brain functioned at the microscopic level. The reticular
theory held that the brain was functionally one big cell; protoplasm flowed
from the cerebral cortex to the spinal cord through cellular processes. The
neuronal theory held that brain cells, or neurons, were separate; one cell
contacted another only by means of a special connection, later called the
Camillo Golgi, who developed the eponymous silver stain that made possible
all subsequent advances in neurohistology, championed the reticular theory.
Santiago Ramón y Cajal, using Golgi’s stain to pursue detailed
and artistic studies of nerve cell processes, became the champion of the neuronal
theory. By the time the two shared the Nobel Prize in 1906, the scientific
community had proclaimed the neuronal theory victorious. Developments in the
20th century have shown that in many ways the brain does function as a unit;
brain cells are anatomically separate but functionally so closely related
as to bring Golgi’s old ideas back into play.
Freemon FR. Neuroscience, History. JAMA. 2005;294(6):745-746. doi:10.1001/jama.294.6.745-b