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Galvani’s SparkThe Story of the Nerve Impulse$
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Alan McComas

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199751754

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199751754.001.0001

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The Messengers 1

The Messengers 1

(p.131) 9 The Messengers1
Galvani’s Spark

Alan J. McComas

Oxford University Press

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

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