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Insights into the life and work of Sir Charles Sherrington

Abstract

Much of the original historical data behind the greatest discoveries in neuroscience are now lost. However, a recently rediscovered box of histological slides belonging to Sir Charles Sherrington, a pioneer in spinal cord and motor control research, has survived at the University of Oxford since 1936. Sherrington coined the term 'synapse', developed the concept of inhibition in neuronal function, demonstrated the integration of sensory and motor actions of the nervous system, and examined the synaptic activity of single neurons and their integration into neuronal circuits. Here, we explore Sherrington's lifetime of discoveries, with reference to histological specimens from his box of slides.

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Figure 1: Early work on the border cells of the spinal cord.
Figure 2: Histological preparation of cat spinal cord with ventral horn motor neurons, dorsal root ganglion and paravertebral sympathetic ganglion.
Figure 3: Fundamental concepts of muscle innervation.
Figure 4: Anatomical and physiological dissection of spinal reflexes.

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Acknowledgements

Z.M. is grateful to G. Radda for drawing his attention to Sherrington's box and to C. C. J. Voleker for her gift of a copy of Sherrington's The Integrative Action of the Nervous System. The authors thank M. Fillenz for help in looking through the box and comments on the manuscript, C. Beesley for help with photography and D. Young for creating the website for the historic repository. They also thank N. Pollini and D. Hilton for continuous encouragement and support and J. De Carlos for his help with Supplementary information S6. The authors are grateful for feedback received at Z.M.'s presentation on the 'Bundle of His' Trinity Meeting of the Oxford Medical Tutors at New College.

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Correspondence to Zoltán Molnár.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary information S1 (figure)

Examples of Sherrington's legacy at Oxford. (PDF 2228 kb)

Supplementary information S2 (figure)

Sherrington's work on motor cortical localization. (PDF 932 kb)

Supplementary information S3 (figure)

Sections from Gustav Fritsch in Sherrington's Box. (PDF 931 kb)

Supplementary information S4 (figure)

Slides from Sherrington's studies in bacteriology and haematology. (PDF 839 kb)

Supplementary information S5 (box)

Species examined and histological methods used in Sherrington's box of slides (PDF 149 kb)

Supplementary information S6 (figure)

Sherrington and Cajal. (PDF 3610 kb)

Related links

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FURTHER INFORMATION

Zoltan Molnár's homepage

Richard E. Brown's homepage

Sherrington's Box, University of Oxford

Sherrington's correspondence with E. G. T. Liddell, The National Archives

The Sherrington fonds, UBC Library

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Molnár, Z., Brown, R. Insights into the life and work of Sir Charles Sherrington. Nat Rev Neurosci 11, 429–436 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn2835

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