In the 1870s, the Italian anatomist Camillo Golgi developed such a special staining technique, and he and other scientists were then able to observe, under the microscope, the fine structures of the cells of the nervous system. Yet Golgi may not have fully appreciated that what seemed to be an extended network of nerve tissue, in reality, were millions of distinct neurons with fine fibrils touching each other. It was the Spanish scientist, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, who was credited with expounding the neuron theory. In 1906, Golgi and Ramon y Cajal shared the Nobel prize in physiology/medicine for their discoveries on the nature of the nervous system.

Even after the concept of separate neurons was generally accepted, there was controversy for many years about how the separate neurons communicated with each other. At the end of the nineteenth century, many scientists believed they did so by means of electric impulses. Others believed there was a chemical messenger that allowed neurons to influence each other. Around 1920, ACETYLCHOLINE was discovered, the first of many nerve messengers that would be discovered during the subsequent decades.

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