The origin of the term plasticity in the neurosciences: Ernesto Lugaro and chemical synaptic transmission

J Hist Neurosci. 2002 Sep;11(3):305-9. doi: 10.1076/jhin.11.3.305.10396.


The Italian psychiatrist Ernesto Lugaro can be regarded as responsible for introducing the term plasticity into the neurosciences as early as 1906. By this term he meant that throughout life the anatomo-functional relations between neurons can change in an adaptive fashion to enable psychic maturation, learning, and even functional recovery after brain damage. Lugaro's concept of plasticity was strongly inspired by a neural hypothesis of learning and memory put forward in 1893 by his teacher Eugenio Tanzi. Tanzi postulated that practice and experience promote neuronal growth and shorten the minute spatial gaps between functionally associated neurons, thus facilitating their interactions. In addition to discovering the cerebellar cells known by his name and advancing profound speculations about the functions of the glia, Lugaro lucidly foresaw the chemical nature of synaptic transmission in the central nervous system, and was the first to propose the usage of the terms "nervous conduction" and "nervous transmission" in their currently accepted meaning.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Italy
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Neurosciences / history*
  • Synaptic Transmission*
  • Terminology as Topic

Personal name as subject

  • Ernesto Lugaro