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Prog Brain Res. 2013;203:201-20. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-62730-8.00008-6.

Cajal and the discovery of a new artistic world: the neuronal forest.

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Laboratorio Cajal de Circuitos Corticales, Centro de Tecnología Biomédica, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Madrid, Spain; Instituto Cajal, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, Spain. Electronic address:


The introduction of the staining method of Camillo Golgi in 1873 represented a giant step for neuroscience. Prior to this development, the visualization of neurons with the available histological techniques had been incomplete; it was only feasible to observe the cell body and the proximal portions of the dendrites and axon. However, with the Golgi method it was possible to observe neurons and glia with all their parts (cell body, dendrites, and axon in the case of neurons; cell body and processes in the case of glia). Due to the advantages of this method, all of a sudden it was possible to begin studying one of the great mysteries and critical issues of the organization of the nervous system-the tracing of the connections between neurons. Nevertheless, this method was not fully exploited until Santiago Ramón y Cajal arrived on the scene in 1888. It should be noted that, in Cajal's day, drawing was the most common method of describing microscopic images in the absence of the highly developed microphotography and other imaging techniques commonly available in today's laboratories. As a consequence, most scientific figures presented by the early neuroanatomists were their own drawings, providing an outlet for these scientists to express and develop their artistic talent. In the hands of Cajal, the Golgi method represented not only the principal tool that was to change the course of the history of neuroscience but also the discovery of a new artistic world, the neuronal forest.


Golgi technique; cerebral cortex; connections of neurons; drawing of neural elements; history of neuroscience

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