The Integrative Action of the Nervous System (1st ed.)

The Integrative Action of the Nervous System

Charles Scott Sherrington

Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906.

1st ed. Bound in publisher's cloth. Hardcover. Good binding and cover. Head restored. Clean, unmarked pages. xvi, 411 p. : 85 illustrations; 22 cm. Includes related ephemera, namely the original Syllabus of Sherrington's 1904 Silliman lectures at Yale, a review of the Silliman lectures by the physiologist Yandell Henderson, a reprint of John Fulton's 1947 article, "Sherrington's Impact on Neurophysiology", and other related articles.  From the library of August Vollmer, first police chief of Berkeley, with his blind stamps.

In 1904 Dr. Charles Sherrington gave a series of ten lectures at Yale on the nervous system.  These lectures were compiled in 1906 in his book, The Integrative Action of the Nervous System.  "This work stands as the true foundation of modern neurophysiology; it is considered by Fulton to rank in importance with Harvey's De Motu Cordis, while Walshe asserts that it holds a position in physiology similar to Newton's Principia in physics." (Garrison-McHenry, History of Neurology, p. 229)  

Before publishing The Integrative Action of the Nervous System, Sherrington had spent 20 years engaged in clinical research on mammals, primarily rhesus monkeys.  "Sherrington postulated that the reflex is the simplest unit of nervous integration." (Levine)  His work focused on isolating involuntary reflexes and the grey matter of the spinal cord by systematically mapped sensory dermatomes.  Previously, anatomical texts had presumed nerves going to muscles were motor nerves.

Sherrington's discovery that a large number of these nerves were sensory upended the contemporary view.   Building on Ramon y Cajal's neuron theory, Sherrington concluded that reflexes were integrated activities of an organism and not simply isolated reflex arcs.  To better describe his system, Sherrington introduced the terms, "synapse" and "proprioceptive."  He proposed that the synapse was the site where reflexes interact. The Integrative Action of the Nervous System "provided a framework for subsequent research that led to an understanding of the mechanisms of synaptic transmission." (Levine, 3 p.)

He shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1932 'for their discoveries regarding the functions of neurons.'

Sherrington's work remains important today as the basis to our understanding of neural function, neural surgery, and the treatment of nervous disorders such as paralysis and atrophy.


Garrison-Morton 1432; Printing in the Mind of Man 397; Norman 1939; Heirs of Hippocrates 2198.

Garrison-McHenry, History of Neurology, p. 229.

Robert Burke. "Charles Scott Sherrington's Integrative action: a centenary notice." Brain: A Journal of Neurology. Vol. 130, no. 4, p. 887-894.  

Levine, David. "Sherrington's "The Integrative action of the nervous system": A centennial appraisal." Journal of the Neurological Sciences 253 (2007) 1–6.

Eccles, J. C. (1957). "Some Aspects of Sherrington's Contribution to Neurophysiology". Notes and Records of the Royal Society. 12 (2): 216–225.

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Tags: History of Medicine, physiology, Printing in the Mind of Man