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Definition: Erlanger, Joseph from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(ûr'lăng-ər), 1874–1965, American scientist, b. San Francisco, grad. Univ. of California (B.S., 1895), M.D. Johns Hopkins, 1899. For his contributions to physiology, especially his work on nerve action, he shared with Herbert Spencer Gasser the 1944 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. He was professor (1910–46) and (from 1946) professor emeritus of physiology at the medical school of Washington Univ., St. Louis. With H. S. Gasser he wrote Electrical Signs of Nervous Activity (1937).

Summary Article: Erlanger, Joseph from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

US physiologist who was awarded a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1944 with Herbert Gasser for their work on the transmission of impulses by nerve fibres. They found that the smaller nerve fibres were responsible for the conduction of pain, and that the thickness of a nerve fibre dictates the speed at which a nerve can transmit electrical information.

Neurons, cells that are specialized for transmitting electrical signals from one location in the body to another, are the functional units of the nervous system. Neurons share common features. A neuron has a relatively large cell body containing the nucleus and most of the cytoplasm and organelles of the cell. They also have very long fibrelike processes, that can extend over large distances in the body and conduct messages.

Erlanger was one of the first to characterize the different types of neurons, and together with Gasser, demonstrated that the sensory fibres (dendrons) in mixed nerve trunks (nerves with both sensory neurons and motor neurons) can be arranged in decreasing orders with various physical properties. In general, they found that the smaller nerve fibres were responsible for the conduction of pain, and that the thickness of a nerve fibre dictates the speed of its transmission of electrical information.

Erlanger was born in San Francisco and graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School. During his time as professor of physiology at the University of Washington in the period 1910–46 he began working with the neurophysiologist Gasser, with whom he was later to share the Nobel Prize.

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