The Erlanger-Gasser Lecture

In 1910, Joseph Erlanger was invited by Washington University to head the Department of Physiology in the newly reorganized School of Medicine. Herbert Gasser joined the department shortly after and he and Erlanger began a collaboration in studies on fundamental properties of nerve. Erlanger and Gasser built and assembled the requisite equipment for stimulation and recording. With it they investigated the characteristics of conduction nerve axons. Together with George Bishop, who subsequently joined in the work, they determined the speed of conduction in nerve fibers and its relation to axonal diameter, the independence of action potentials, in individual nerve fibers, the time course of the individual action potentials, the refractory period after an action potential and a host of other properties which are fundamental to our understanding of nerve physiology. In 1921 Gasser was made Head of the Department of Pharmacology at Washington University. He continued collaborating with Erlanger and Bishop. They were very successful in reconstructing the compound action potential from the fiber diameter spectrum, their values for action potential size and duration, and assuming a linear relation between axon diameter and conduction velocity. In 1944, Erlanger and Gasser were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for these studies.

In 1932, Gasser moved to New York as chairman of the Department of Physiology at Cornell Medical School. Three years later, he was appointed Director of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, a post he held until his retirement in 1953. He then returned to the laboratory and again turned his attention to peripheral nerve. During these years, he made important discoveries on unmyelinated nerve axons. He died in 1963. Erlanger remained as Head of Physiology at Washington University until 1946. He continued working on problems of peripheral nerve including excitation, effects of polarization and repetitive firing of axons. In addition to research, he contributed much as an administrator and teacher. A founding member of the Executive Faculty, he played a large role in the building of the modern Washington University School of Medicine. He died in 1965.

Past Erlanger-Gasser Speakers

2009 Dr. Pietro De Camilli
2008 Dr. Carol W. Grieder
2006 Dr. Thomas D. Pollard
2004 Dr. Anton J. Berns
2003 Dr. Wolfhard Almers
2002 Dr. Clay M. Armstrong
2000 Dr. Floyd E. Bloom
1998 Dr. Gerald D. Fischbach
1996 Dr. Alfred G. Gilman
1998 Dr. Gerald D. Fischbach
1996 Dr. Alfred G. Gilman
1995 Dr. Gunter Blobel
1994 Dr. Edwin G. Krebs, M.D.
1992 Dr. Bert Sakmann
1992 Dr. Andrew Huxley
1991 Dr. George E. Palade
1990 Dr. Stanley Cohen