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Santiago Ramón y Cajal

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Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Santiago Ramón y Cajal
Born (1852-05-01)1 May 1852
Petilla de Aragón, Navarre, Spain
Died 18 October 1934(1934-10-18) (aged 82)
Madrid, Spain
Nationality Spain
Fields Neuroscience
Influenced Aureliano Maestre de San Juan
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1906)

Santiago Ramón y Cajal ForMemRS[1] (Spanish: ; 1 May 1852 – 18 October 1934)[2] was a Spanish pathologist, histologist, neuroscientist and Nobel laureate. His original pioneering investigations of the microscopic structure of the brain have led him to be designated by many as the father of modern neuroscience. His medical artistry was legendary, and hundreds of his drawings illustrating the delicate arborizations of brain cells are still in use for educational and training purposes.[3]


Santiago Ramón y Cajal was not Cajal, as so many writers call him, but rather Ramón, as his Father's last name was Ramón and his mother's Cajal. So, according to our standards, he was Dr. Ramón-Cajal, not Dr. Cajal. 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 his neighbor's yard gate with a homemade cannon.[4] 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 as he worked Ramón was well known for his pugnacious attitude.

Over the summer of 1868, Cajal's father, hoping to interest his son in a medical career, took him to graveyards to find human remains for anatomical study. Sketching bones was a turning point for Cajal and he subsequently did pursue studies in medicine.[5]:207

Ramón y Cajal attended the medical school of the University of Zaragoza, where his father was an anatomy teacher, and graduated in 1873.[2] 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.[2] 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.[2] In 1877, he received his doctorate in Medicine in Madrid and received the position of anatomy professor of the University of Valencia in 1883.[2] He later held professorships in both Barcelona (1887) and Madrid (1892).[2] He was also the director of the Zaragoza Museum (1879), director of the Instituto Nacional de Higiene - translated as National Institute of Hygiene - (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.[2] He died in Madrid in 1934, at the age of 82.[2]

He was satirist critiquing the prevalent social conditions in his country.

On Cajal's political and religious views, it was first said that "Cajal was a liberal in politics, an evolutionist in philosophy, an agnostic in religion".[6][7] Nonetheless, he later regretted having left religion[8] and ultimately, he became convinced of a belief in God as a Creator, as stated during his first lecture before the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences.[9][10] He joined a Masonic lodge in 1877.[11]

Works and theories

Ramón y Cajal in his laboratory

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.[5] He discovered the axonal growth cone, and experimentally demonstrated that the relationship between nerve cells was not continuous but contiguous.[5] This provided definitive evidence for what would later be known as "neuron doctrine", now widely considered the foundation of modern neuroscience.[5] In debating neural network theories (e.g. 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).[12] 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.


Bust of Santiago Ramón y Cajal in Burgos

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.[2] 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".[2] 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.[2]

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. (in French). C. Reinwald. 
  • 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 (1899–1904). Textura del sistema nervioso del hombre y los vertebrados. (in Spanish (French translation)[13] (English translation)[14]). Madrid. 
  • Ramón y Cajal, Santiago (1906). Studien über die Hirnrinde des Menschen v.5 (in German). Johann Ambrosius Barth. 

Gallery of drawings by Ramón y Cajal

See also


  1. ^ Sherrington, C. S. (1935). "Santiago Ramon y Cajal. 1852-1934".  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Nobel lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1901-1921. Amsterdam: Elsevier Publishing Company. 1967. Retrieved 2013-01-29. 
  3. ^ "History of Neuroscience". Society for Neuroscience. Retrieved 2008-10-09. 
  4. ^ Santiago Ramón y Cajal, Recuerdos de mi Vida, Madrid Imprenta y Librería de N. Moya, Madrid 1917, Volume I, Chapter X
  5. ^ a b c d Finger, Stanley (2000). "Chapter 13: Santiago Ramon y Cajal. From nerve nets to neuron doctrine". Minds behind the brain: A history of the pioneers and their discoveries. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 197–216.  
  6. ^ Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj (2010). Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, ed. Educating the Whole Child for the Whole World: The Ross School Model and Education for the Global Era. NYU Press. p. 165.  
  7. ^ John Brande Trend (1965). The Origins of Modern Spain. Russell & Russell. p. 82. Cajal was a liberal in politics, an evolutionist in philosophy, an agnostic in religion... 
  8. ^ José María López Piñero, "Santiago Ramón y Cajal", Universitat de València p. 343
  9. ^ Ssesquicentenario de Santiago Ramon y Cajal, p. 39-40: a los que te dicen que la Ciencia apaga toda poesía, secando las fuentes del sentimiento y el ansia de misterio que late en el fondo del alma humana, contéstales que á la vana poesía del vulgo, basada en una noción errónea del Universo, noción tan mezquina como pueril, tú sustituyes otra mucho más grandiosa y sublime, que es la poesía de la verdad, la incomparable belleza de la obra de Dios y de las leyes eternas por Él establecidas. Él acierta exclusivamente a comprender algo de ese lenguaje misterioso que Dios ha escrito en los fenómenos de la Naturaleza; y a él solamente le ha sido dado desentrañar la maravillosa obra de la Creación para rendir a la Divinidad uno de los cultos más gratos y aceptos a un Supremo entendimiento, el de estudiar sus portentosas obras, para en ellas y por ellas conocerle, admirarle y reverenciarle.
  10. ^
  11. ^ José María López Piñero, "Santiago Ramón y Cajal", Universitat de València p. 156
  12. ^
  13. ^ Histologie du système nerveux de l'homme & des vertébrés, t. 1, París, 1909.
  14. ^


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