Further advances

After the main divisions and transmitters in the autonomic nervous system had been established, advances in our knowledge blossomed in many areas, due to the work of physiologists and pharmacologists far more numerous than would be appropriate to mention in this book. Two areas of advance are, however, particularly relevant.

The invention of microelectrodes, and the increasing interest in electro-physiology, switched the emphasis away from the autonomic nervous system in the middle of this century, since the nerves and the tissues they innervated were small and not easily studied by electrophysiological techniques. However, when considering increases in our understanding of the mechanisms involved in the action of autonomic nerves on target tissues, considerable advances stemmed from the work of Edith Biilbring and her colleagues in Oxford, beginning in the 1950s. She was instrumental in applying the new techniques, in particular to smooth muscles. Through her influence, considerable progress was made in understanding the behaviour of smooth muscles and the effects of autonomic nerves on them.

After the synthesis of specific blocking drugs for the receptors involved in adrenergic and cholinergic transmission, physiological and pharmacological studies of many organs led to the discovery of non-adrenergic, non-cholinergic nerves, and in this field Geoffrey Burnstock and his colleagues have made important advances, particularly with the concept of co-transmission and the identification of many other transmitters, the most controversial of which was the purine, ATP.

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