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Professor Zoltán Molnár has co-written an insightful paper into the story of preeminent neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal's delivery of the Croonian Lecture over a century ago and his interactions with Sir Charles Sherrington, our former Waynflete Professor of Physiology.

Zoltan cajal slides
Photomicrographs of Cajal’s slides prepared by Sherrington. Donated to the Department by William C. Gibson

In 1894, Spanish scientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal was invited to deliver the Croonian Lecture, a prestigious lectureship given at the invitation of the Royal Society and the Royal College of Physicians, and most recently delivered by the Department's Dr Lee's Professor of Anatomy Professor Dame Kay Davies. Cajal's lecture was delivered in French with the title “La fine structure des centres nerveux”. To further express the recognition of the Royal Society, Cajal received an honorarium of 50 pounds. Moreover, Cajal was awarded an Honorary degree of Doctor in Science by the University of Cambridge during the same visit.

The brilliant young physiologist Sir Charles Sherrington, who would later join our Department as the Waynflete Professor of Physiology and go on to receive the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1932, invited Cajal to stay with his family at his house in London. Professor  Zoltán Molnár has written a review with Juan A. De Carlos from the Instituto Cajal in Madrid, published in Anatomical Record, that describes Cajal's interactions with Sherrington during this visit, which led to a lifelong friendship.

Sherrington was a major proponent of the neuron doctrine and he was inspired by Cajal's theory of dynamic polarization of nerve cells. Sherrington coined the term “synapse” to name the Cajal description of interneuronal contact and he gave the term, for functional nerve endings, as “Boutons terminaux,” still used today. 

Sherrington assisted Cajal with the preparation of his presentation for the Croonian Lecture. "Cajal brought his collection of microscope slides with him to London for his presentation and Sherrington made lantern slides of some of these microscope slides. In fact, he made a series of microphotographs from Cajal’s best histological preparations in order to be projected using the Magic Lantern. In addition, Sherrington provided all the material to draw large illustrations in various colours." (Prof Molnár).

Some of Cajal’s slides remained at Oxford. In 1985, William C. Gibson donated two photomicrographs that were prepared by Sir Charles Sherrington to the Department, then known as the Oxford University Laboratory of Physiology. Collections of Sherrington’s histological preparations are preserved at our Department today. Notably, there are still slides originating from Cajal in his collection; two specifically carrying his signature can be viewed here and here.

 

More information on Sherrington's Histology Box can be found here

The full publication by Molnár and De Carlos, Cajal's Interactions with Sherrington and the Croonian Lecture, can be found here.