The Messengers<sup>1</sup>

Alan J. McComas

in Galvani’s Spark

Published in print August 2011 | ISBN: 9780199751754
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199897094 | DOI:
The Messengers1

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At Cambridge, Elliott, and then Langley, speculate that impulses liberate chemicals from nerve endings. Others, including Adrian, believe that nerve endings exert their effects by electric currents flowing through the synapses. In Austria, Otto Loewi dreams of a way to detect any chemical released by the endings of the vagus nerve in the frog heart. The method works and the chemical is later identified as acetylcholine—the first neurotransmitter to be discovered. In London, Henry Dale’s pharmacological experiments lead him to suggest that acetylcholine is also the transmitter in the sympathetic ganglia and at the nerve endings on muscle fibres. His later experiments are aided by Wilhelm Feldberg’s sensitive bioassay for acetylcholine. John Eccles, however, is still convinced that electric currents are responsible for part, or all, of the excitatory and inhibitory effects at synapses. Dale and Loewi share the 1936 Nobel Prize.

Keywords: John Newport Langley; Otto Loewi; Henry Dale; Wilhelm Feldberg; acetylcholine; nerve endings; vagus nerve; G. L. Brown; John Eccles

Chapter.  5651 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neuroscience

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