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1 Searching for Insight: Using Invertebrate Nervous Systems to Illuminate Fundamental Principles in Neuroscience

Eve Marder


Of course, I don’t personally remember the days when Freud sketched his pictures of crayfish neurons (Fig. 1) before his quest to understand the darker mysteries of the human soul. I was still in elementary and high school when the fathers (and the forgotten mothers) of neuroscience studied a variety of invertebrate nervous systems to first reveal some of the most basic understandings in neuroscience. These included, among too many to mention, the mechanism of the action potential (Hodgkin and Huxley 1952), the nature of the resting potential in glia (Kuffler and Potter 1964; Baylor and Nicholls 1969), fundamentals of the stretch response (Kuffler 1954), the demonstration of electrical coupling in the nervous system (Furshpan and Potter 1959), lateral inhibition (Hartline and Ratliff 1957Hartline and Ratliff 1958), the early descriptions of pacemaking and bursting in isolated neurons (Alving 1968), and the direct demonstration that GABA is the transmitter used by many inhibitory neurons (Otsuka et al. 1966Otsuka et al. 1967).

In those early years, it was customary for pioneering scientists such as Steve Kuffler and Ted Bullock to search for the “ideal preparation” with which to study the problem that interested them. It was then thought perfectly normal, or at least reasonable, to embark on a seagoing vessel or to prowl the desert or jungle with a bottle of methylene blue, a microscope, scissors, and forceps, and look for large neurons likely to welcome the relatively crude electrodes of the day. The neuroscience that grew from the tradition of the naturalists was invariably comparative,...

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