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Autonomic Nervous System

A Brief History of Discovery

Majid Ali, M.D.

The earlier references to the autonomic nervous system in the modern literature are found in the writings of Auerbach and Meissner.2 During later decades of the seventeenth century, Auerbach, a German scientist, described a plexus of nerve cells and fibers wedged between the two layers of the muscularis of the bowel. It was named myenteric (Auerbach's) plexus. Several years later, Meissner described a second plexus of nerves and fibers located in the submucosal tissues of the bowel, which was named submucosal (Meissner's) plexus.

The recognition of the functional aspects of the plexuses of Auerbach and Meissner is attributed to two nineteenth-century English physiologists, Bayliss and Starling. Working with isolated loops of intestine of anesthetized dogs, those physiologists discovered that application of internal pressure to the wall of the bowel caused the bowel wall to exhibit muscular movements that propelled the contents of the intestine in a unidirectional fashion—in the form of a descending wave of contraction from the oral side followed by relaxation in the immediately distal (anal) segment. They put forth "the law of intestine" to explain the observed coordinated behavior of the bowel, and attributed the motility of the bowel to the nerve cells and fibers described earlier by Auerbach and Meissner.

The next landmark advance in understanding the autonomic nervous system of the bowel came from the experiments of Ulrich Trendelenburg, a German physiologist who published his observations in 1917. Whereas Bayliss and Starling conducted experiments with living dogs, Trendelenburg mounted a loop of intestine taken from a guinea pig on a J-shaped tubular support and passed an oxygenated nutritive solution through it. Thus, the experimental conditions eliminated all nerve impulses arising from the brain or the spinal neurons and allowed him to observe the intestinal behavior that could be regulated by factors confined to the eviscerated segment of the intestine. Trendelenburg confirmed the findings of the earlier English physiologists and introduced the term peristaltic reflex for the motility response of the intestine to changes in the luminal pressure.

In 1921, J.N. Langley, an English physiologist and editor/owner of the prestigious Journal of Physiology, published his classic, The Autonomic Nervous System. In that volume, he laid down the foundation of his three-division—the 'autonomic troika'—view of the structural and functional dynamics of the autonomic system. Specifically, he described at length not only the sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomic nervous systems but also a third division designated as the enteric autonomic nervous system. He postulated that the enteric division was distinct from the other two divisions in its structural and functional independence from the brain and the spinal cord. This basic design allowing the enteric system to escape the structural and functional hierarchy of the central nervous system, as Langley recognized, is of enormous clinical significance. But Langley's work was so edited by later writers that generations of physicians were raised to believe the ANS was only a dual system with the sympathetic and parasympathetic arms.

After over five decades of neglect, the team headed by Michael Gershon (a New York neuroscientist) revived Langley's enteric system by elegant experimental work that established serotonin as the primary neurotransmitter of that third autonomic system.2 Gershon's findings are summarized in a later tutorials.

All references appear in tutorial Br31.

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Articles and YouTube Segments on Alzheimer’s disease


☞ Alzheimer’s Disease
http://www.majidali.com/memory_problems.htm
☞ Oxygen, Genes, Memory, and Alzheimer’s Disease - The incidence of Alzheimer’s disease (AD)—a problem of
http://www.majidali.com/alzheimers_disease.htm
☞ The Grease and Detergent Model of Alzheimer’s Disease
http://vuim.org/alzheimers_disease_1.htm
☞ Oxygen, Alzheimer’s disease, and Lapdog Joes
http://www.wiki-medical.org/adrefog.htm

 

 

 

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