4 June 2008
PURKINJE, Johannes Evangelista von (1787-1869, anatomist and physiologist). Autograph letter signed ('Purkinje') to an unidentified colleague, Breslau, 5 February 1839, 2 pages, large 8vo (evenly browned). Provenance: Stargardt sale, 7 July 1998, lot 585; the Albin Schram Collection.
NEWS OF 'A VERY PRETTY DISCOVERY'. Purkinje thanks his correspondent for sending him an essay, and communicates to him 'eine recht nette Entdeckung' which he has just made, relating to the structure of the pia mater (the inner layer of the meninges) in the spinal column: 'Die pia mater des Rückenmarks (zunächst der Ochsen) die bis zur Kreuzung der vordern Stränge bedeutend fest und fibrös ist, enthält ihrer ganzen Länge nach ein äußerst feines, reiches Nervensystem der zartesten Elementarfasern zu Bündeln und einzeln zumeist der Länge nach verlaufend, sonst sich vielfach verflechten. Nirgends sieht man die Elementarfasern nakter als hier'. These nerves can be seen with the naked eye or with weak magnification, with the help of some acetic acid, and Purkinje hopes that he may now be able to find such nerve filaments in all the fibrous and serous membranes, which would demonstrate the guardian function of the nervous system in all such 'border' structures: 'woraus dann hervorgienge, daß das Nervensystem als Wächter des Organismus in allen Grenzgebilden sich verbreitet, was ganz natürlich wäre'.
Purkinje created the world's first department of physiology at the University of Breslau in 1839. Two years previously, he had discovered 'Purkinje cells' (large neurons with many branching dendrites in the cerebellum); the present discovery may be related to another important discovery in 1839, of 'Purkinje fibres', the fibrous tissue that conducts electrical impulses from the atrioventricular node to all parts of the ventricles of the heart.
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