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Santiago Ramón y Cajal 1.5.1852

Wikipedia (29 Mar 2013, 10:34)

Santiago Ramón y Cajal ForMemRS (1 May 1852 – 18 October 1934) was a Spanish pathologist, histologist, neuroscientist, and Nobel laureate. His pioneering investigations of the microscopic structure of the brain were original: he is considered by many to be the father of modern neuroscience. He was skilled at drawing, and hundreds of his illustrations of brain cells are still used for educational purposes today.


The son of physician and anatomy lecturer Justo Ramón and Antonia Cajal, Ramón y Cajal was born of Aragonese parents in Petilla de Aragón in Navarre, Spain.

As a child he was transferred between many different schools because of his poor behavior and anti-authoritarian attitude. An extreme example of his precociousness and rebelliousness is his imprisonment at the age of eleven for destroying the town gate with a homemade cannon. He was an avid painter, artist, and gymnast, but his father neither appreciated nor encouraged these abilities. In order to tame his unruly character, his father apprenticed him to a shoemaker and barber, and was well known for his pugnacious attitude.

Ramón y Cajal attended the medical school of the University of Zaragoza, where his father was an anatomy teacher, and graduated in 1873. After a competitive examination, he served as a medical officer in the Spanish Army. He took part in an expedition to Cuba in 1874-75, where he contracted malaria and tuberculosis. In order to cure this condition, he attended the Panticosa spa-town in the Pyrenees.

After returning to Spain he married Silveria Fañanás García in 1879, with whom he had four daughters and three sons. In 1877, he doctorated in Medicine in Madrid and received the position of anatomy professor of the University of Valencia in 1883. He later held professorships in both Barcelona (1887) and Madrid (1892). He was also the director of the Zaragoza Museum (1879), director of the Instituto Nacional de Higiene -Translated as National institute of higiene-(1899), and founder of the Laboratorio de Investigaciones Biológicas -translated as the Laboratory of Biological investigations-(1922), later renamed to the Instituto Cajal, or Cajal Institute. He died in Madrid in 1934, at the age of 82.

He was an ironic critic of the social conditions and problems of his country. He is believed to have joined a Masonic lodge.

On Cajal's political and religious views, it has been said that "Cajal was a liberal in politics, an evolutionist in philosophy, an agnostic in religion".

Works and theories

Ramón y Cajal's early work was accomplished at the Universities of Zaragoza and Valencia, where he focused on the pathology of inflammation, the microbiology of cholera, and the structure of Epithelial cells and tissues. It was not until he moved to the University of Barcelona in 1887 that he learned Golgi's silver nitrate preparation and turned his attention to the central nervous system. During this period he made extensive studies of neural material covering many species and most major regions of the brain.

Ramón y Cajal made several major contributions to neuroanatomy. He discovered the axonal growth cone, and provided the definitive evidence for what would later be known as "neuron doctrine", experimentally demonstrating that the relationship between nerve cells was not one of continuity, but rather of contiguity. "Neuron doctrine" stands as the foundation of modern neuroscience. In the debate of the neural network theories (neuron theory, reticular theory) Ramón y Cajal was a fierce defender of the neuron theory.

He provided detailed descriptions of cell types associated with neural structures, and produced excellent depictions of structures and their connectivity.

He was an advocate of the existence of dendritic spines, although he did not recognize them as the site of contact from presynaptic cells. He was a proponent of polarization of nerve cell function and his student Rafael Lorente de Nó would continue this study of input/output systems into cable theory and some of the earliest circuit analysis of neural structures.

He discovered a new type of cell, to be named after him: the interstitial cell of Cajal (ICC). This cell is found interleaved among neurons embedded within the smooth muscles lining the gut, serving as the generator and pacemaker of the slow waves of contraction that move material along the gastrointestine, vitally mediating neurotransmission from motor nerves to smooth muscle cells.

In his 1894 Croonian Lecture, he suggested in an extended metaphor that cortical pyramidal cells may become more elaborate with time, as a tree grows and extends its branches. He also devoted a considerable amount of his time to studying hypnosis (which he used to help his wife with birth labor) and parapsychological phenomena, but a book he had written on these areas got lost during the Spanish Civil War.


Cajal received many prizes, distinctions and societal memberships along his scientific career including and honorary Doctorates in Medicine of the Universities of Cambridge and Würzburg and an honorary Doctorate in Philosophy of the Clark University. Nevertheless the most famous distinction he was awarded was the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1906 together with Italian Camillo Golgi "in recognition of their work on the structure of the nervous system". This was seen as quite controversial because Golgi, a stout reticularist, disagreed with Cajal in his view of the neuron doctrine.

The asteroid 117413 Ramonycajal is named in his honor. The Spanish public television filmed a biopic series to commemorate his life.


He published over 100 scientific works and articles in French, Spanish, and German. Among his most notable were Rules and advices on scientific investigation, Histology, Degeneration and regeneration of the nervous system, Manual of normal histology and micrographic technique, Elements of histology, Manual of general Anatomic Pathology, New ideas on the fine anatomy of the nerve centres, Textbook on the nervous system of man and the vertebrates, and The retina of vertebrates.

In 1905, he published five science-fictional "Vacation Stories" under the pen name "Dr. Bacteria."

A list of his publications includes:

- Ramón y Cajal, Santiago (1890 (first edition), 1905 (fourth edition)). Manual de Anatomia Patológica General (Handbook of general Anatomical Pathology) (in Spanish).
- Ramón y Cajal, Santiago; Richard Greeff (1894). Die Retina der Wirbelthiere: Untersuchungen mit der Golgi-cajal'schen Chromsilbermethode und der ehrlich'schen Methylenblaufärbung (in German). Bergmann.
- Ramón y Cajal, Santiago; L. Azoulay (1894). Les nouvelles idées sur la structure du système nerveux chez l'homme et chez les vertébrés. (English translation, 2004: ″Texture of the nervous system of man and the vertebrates″, Berlin: Springer) (in French). C. Reinwald.Đ
- Ramón y Cajal, Santiago; Johannes Bresler, E. Mendel (1896). Beitrag zum Studium der Medulla Oblongata: Des Kleinhirns und des Ursprungs der Gehirnnerven (in German). Verlag von Johann Ambrosius Barth.
- Ramón y Cajal, Santiago (1898). "Estructura del quiasma óptico y teoría general de los entrecruzamientos de las vías nerviosas." [Die Structur des Chiasma opticum nebst einer allgemeine Theorie der Kreuzung der Nervenbahnen (German, 1899, Verlag Joh. A. Barth)]. Rev. Trim. Micrográfica (in Spanish) 3: 15–65.
- Ramón y Cajal, Santiago (1899). Comparative study of the sensory areas of the human cortex.
- Ramón y Cajal, Santiago (1906). Studien über die Hirnrinde des Menschen v.5 (in German). Johann Ambrosius Barth.

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