The end of the central dogma of neurobiology: stem cells and neurogenesis in adult CNS

Neurol Sci. 2006 Sep;27(4):266-70. doi: 10.1007/s10072-006-0682-z.


Until the 1990s, neurologists were practising their profession under the doctrine established in the late 19th to early 20th century by the prominent histologist Ramon y Cajal: "Once the development was ended, the founts of growth and regeneration of the axons and dendrites dried up irrevocably. In the adult centers, the nerve paths are something fixed, ended, and immutable. Everything may die, nothing may be regenerated. It is for the science of the future to change, if possible, this harsh decree." Similarly, Giulio Bizzozero, the most prominent Italian histologist and mentor of Camillo Golgi, classified the tissues of the human body into "labile, stable and perennial". Among the latter were the nerve cells, believed to be unable to proliferate in the postnatal brain. This classification was taught until a few years ago to generations of medical students and biologists all over the world. We have investigated the historical, methodological and technical reasons why this "central dogma of neurology", so influential in clinical and experimental neurology, has lasted so long. We examined how this dogma was broken and who contributed, and the difficulties encountered by the "heretical" researchers who contributed to this goal, especially between the 1960s and the early 1990s, when at last neurogenesis in the adult brain could no longer be denied. Finally, we propose that the understanding of the mechanisms underlying various neurological diseases and the interpretations of clinical syndromes, as well as the design of new therapies, are being revolutionised by the breaking of this dogma and the discovery of the presence of neural stem cells in the adult brain.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Cell Differentiation / physiology*
  • Central Nervous System / cytology
  • Central Nervous System / physiology*
  • Central Nervous System / surgery
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Nerve Regeneration / physiology*
  • Neurobiology / history*
  • Stem Cell Transplantation
  • Stem Cells / physiology*