Neuron theory, the cornerstone of neuroscience, on the centenary of the Nobel Prize award to Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Brain Research Bulletin
Francisco López-MuñozCecilio Alamo


Exactly 100 years ago, the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine was awarded to Santiago Ramón y Cajal, "in recognition of his meritorious work on the structure of the nervous system". Cajal's great contribution to the history of science is undoubtedly the postulate of neuron theory. The present work makes a historical analysis of the circumstances in which Cajal formulated his theory, considering the authors and works that influenced his postulate, the difficulties he encountered for its dissemination, and the way it finally became established. At the time when Cajal began his neurohistological studies, in 1887, Gerlach's reticular theory (a diffuse protoplasmic network of the grey matter of the nerve centres), also defended by Golgi, prevailed among the scientific community. In the first issue of the Revista Trimestral de Histología Normal y Patológica (May, 1888), Cajal presented the definitive evidence underpinning neuron theory, thanks to staining of the axon of the small, star-shaped cells of the molecular layer of the cerebellum of birds, whose collaterals end up surrounding the Purkinje cell bodies, in the form of baskets or nests. He thus demonstrated once and for all that the relationship between nerve cells was not...Continue Reading


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