in operant conditioning, von Bekesey in audition, and Hodgkin and Huxley in nerve conduction are examples. Furthermore, single disciplinary efforts often feed into interdisciplinary and translational efforts.


The brain has been studied for millennia. As early as the fourth century BC Hippocrates recognized the involvement of the brain with sensation and with epilepsy. In the mid-1600s, Thomas Willis, an English anatomist, provided a detailed description of the structures of the brain. Two hundred years later scientists began to correlate structures with functions. For example, Paul Broca related a clinical pathology to a structural defect noted on autopsy and Eduard Hitzig and Gustav Fritsch found that electrical stimulation of specific cortical areas produced movement. By the mid-1800s many histologists were describing the cellular components of the nervous system. (For example, see the section on Ramon y Cajal that follows.) Early in the nineteenth century, neurophysiology was gaining momentum with the efforts of scientists such as Charles Sherrington and Edgar Adrian, and neurochemistry was developing, with Henry Dale's isolation of acetylcholine.25, 53

Up until a few decades ago scientists engaged in these endeavors identified themselves as anatomists, physiologists, psychologists, biochemists, and so on. In 1960 the International Brain Research Organization was founded to promote cooperation among the world' s scientific resources for research on the brain.41 In 1969, the Society for Neuroscience was founded to bring together those studying brain and behavior into a single organization; its membership has grown from 1000 in 1970 to over 25,000 in 2000.86 Within the new discipline, neuroscientists are integrating a variety of perspectives to gain insights into fundamental questions about the nervous system in health and disease. Neuroscience is a clear example of a discipline of today arising from interdisciplinary approaches of the past. The discipline of neuroscience arose by combining the efforts of scientists in different fields to solve common scientific problems. It is a dynamic discipline in which new fields continue to be integrated (for example, informatics and molecular biology). The growth of this discipline has been so prodigious, the territories it covers so broad, and the methods it employs so varied that neuroscience itself is beginning to fragment into subdisciplines. One such subdiscipline is cognitive neuroscience, which is itself evolving as a new discipline.


Disciplinary research has an important place in the scientific enterprise. As the examples here illustrate, the efforts of scientists in their own fields can create the tools or provide the basis for many future efforts. Interdisciplinary approaches often build on single disciplinary discoveries.

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