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The Symposia, 1933 — 2003

1952:   The Neuron, Vol. XVII

Organizer: Milislav Demerec

Table of Contents

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Sixteen years separated this Symposium from that on "Excitation Phenomena" held in 1936. Looking back on the program for the 1936 meeting, we can see that it was held just as the field was about to undergo a revolution. Then, the papers by Kenneth Cole and Alan Hodgkin pointed to the path that would be followed by electrophysiological studies of nerve and muscle, while J. Z. Young's description of the giant axons of the squid was the first indication that a new source of material that would revolutionize experimental analyses of nerve conduction was at hand. That this might be considered a golden period in understanding the electrophysiological properties is shown by the presence of five colleagues—Eccles, Hodgkin, Huxley, Katz and Kuffler—at the Symposium, four of whom later won Nobel Prizes.

Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley described their research on the movements of sodium and potassium ions across the nerve cell membrane. This work had before the war but was interrupted by the authors' work during the war on radar and gunnery. They had taken it up again in 1948, with Bernard Katz helping, and spent almost three years analysing the data and writing five classic papers that had been published shortly before the Symposium. As Cole put it in the discussion to their paper, their quantitative description seemed "...likely to form an adequate basis for all of the phenomena

in its province—both known and unknown!" It won Hodgkin and Huxley the 1963 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. They shared the Prize with another participant in the Symposium—John Eccles. Here he described his studies of the motorneuron and referred only briefly to his Nobel Prize work on the synapse. Bernard Katz had worked with Eccles before joining Hodgkin. He studied the third of the special features of the nervous system—the neuromuscular junction—and won his Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1970.

The fifth member of this group was Stephen Kuffler who had worked with Eccles and Katz on the neuromuscular junction. At the Symposium, he was presenting his first studies on receptors in the eye, and his seminal findings on the organization of retinal ganglion cell receptive fields paved the way the work of Torsten and Wiesel who attended later Symposia. Kuffler died in 1980, a great loss to neuroscience.

Jan A. Witkowski

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