Charles Sherrington

By Kate Conklin
January 16, 2018

An English neurophysiologist, histologist, bacteriologist, and a pathologist, Nobel laureate and president of the Royal Society in the early 1920s. He received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Edgar Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian in 1932.

“Mr. Alexander has done a service to the subject by insistently treating each act as involving the whole integrated individual, the whole psycho-physical man. To take a step is an affair not of this or that limb solely, but of the total neuromuscular activity of the moment – not the least of the head and neck.”

Sherrington’s study of reflex action made clear that reflexes did not involve merely a few muscles, but that the brain integrated reactions to stimuli. For example, a dog’s reaction to an itch involves 36 muscles performing two functions – scratching and maintaining balance.

Sherrington also made an important distinction among exteroceptive sensory nerves that detect stimuli from outside the body (such as smells, sounds, and light), interoceptive nerves that detect stimuli taken in to the body (foods), and proprioceptive nerves that detect states within the body such as the position of a muscle. The proprioceptive neurons carry out important functions such as maintaining balance and performing coordinated actions such as running. Sherrington was also the first to use the term neuron for the nerve cell and synapse for the junction between nerve cells.