The Neuron Nerve Net Controversy

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Seeing is believing: we often need to see something before we can accept that it really exists or occurs, and this has been especially pertinent to neuroanatomy. When what we see is limited and incomplete, various interpretations of what was seen arises which are followed by various possible explanations of the mechanism that account for them. A case in point is the neuron-nerve net controversy in the late 19th century, which was not resolved until detailed observations of axonal terminations in close contact but not in continuity with other neurons were made by Cajal and others (Clarke and O 'Malley, 1968). While it is obvious that how well we see a neuron (which is a function of our microscopical techniques) directly influences our…show more content…
This is no different with nerve cells. When the early greeks examined body structure without the aid of microscopes, although they were able to discern nerve tracts in the body, they mistakenly thought that these were hollow canals that allowed passage of a spirituous substance (Finger, 1994). With the aid of a compound microscope, Leeuwenhoek discovered that the nerve tract was in fact composed of many filaments and importantly, was not hollow (Clarke and O 'Malley, 1968).

Subsequently, the invention of the achromatic compound microscope, an improvement on the simple compound microscope which has its resolving power limited by chromatic aberrations, allowed Purkinje to observe (the presence and absence of) myelination in nerve fibres and the morphology of the eponymous Purkinje cells in the cerebellum (among other things)(Clarke and O 'Malley, 1968).

Finally, the advent of electron microscopy allowed us to visualise anatomical details at the nano scale. It confirmed the synaptic gap that Sherrington theorised exists, provided incontrovertible validation of the neuron theory, and became a crucial element in many neuroanatomical research that followed (Shepherd, 1991). From these developments, it is hard to deny that the understanding of the anatomy of the neuron and its
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