Si-Ho Tchou: life of a legend from physiology to psychology
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Why do the bees renounce sleep, the joys of honey, love, and divine leisure? Why do they get so much pain and effort, and where does such a decisiveness come from? So the sex they are dying for must deserve this sacrifice, it must be more beautiful, happier, and do something they can not do?
——Maurice Maeterlinck, Das Leben der Bienen, 1901
During the holidays, Dr. Tchou joined his mentor Prof. Cardot to the marine life station by the Mediterranean Sea, where he conducted researches on animal nerve cells and nerve fibers, spending days and nights recording nerve impulses in a tiny laboratory. At that time, their researches focused on the glandular giant neurons of marine invertebrates like Aplysia, and they had to go daily to the sea to capture Aplysia. Dr. Tchou was responsible to differentiate the glands and giant neurons of Aplysia based to their weight, and the other research project he conducted was to compare the neural discharge rhythms of Aplysia, based on their weight. At the end of 1942, Dr. Tchou was awarded a PhD degree in Science from the University of Lyon for his work on the growth pattern and rhythmic discharge phenomenon of neurons in Aplysia. His findings showed that the glands and giant neurons of Aplysia could be easily identified and sorted out. In addition, he found that the cell size was only a superficial feature of cell differentiation (Tauc, 1966; Ingoglia and Sturman, 1980; Ambron and Kremzner, 1982; Abel and Kandel, 1998).
As early as 1942, Dr. Tchou has studied the giant neurons of Aplysia, and together with Dr. Arvanitaki, published the paper “Laws of the relative individual growth of nerve cells in Aplysia”, where they recorded and quantified the number and relative size of individual neurons at different stages (Arvanitaki and Tchou, 1942). Based on this work, French scientists Dr. Tauc (1954) and Dr. Arvanitaki (1955) pioneered researches on single cell recording of giant neurons using microelectrodes. In addition, benefiting from the methods reported by Dr. Tchou, Prof. Kandel’s team found that habituation and dishabituation was due to the synaptic potential of gill motor neurons (Pinsker et al., 1970; Kupfermann et al., 1970; Carew and Kandel, 1973; Castellucci and Kandel, 1976; Kandel and Schwartz, 1982; Voronezhskaya and Croll, 2015).
Scientists continued to conduct in-depth researches in Aplysia and made numerous significant research findings, however, as pointed out by Hughes (1968): “apart from the work of Tchou Si-Ho (Tchou, 1942) and Arvanitaki few quantitative observations seem to have been recorded on the relative size of its nervous system or on the numbers and sizes of neurons in individuals of different sizes (p. 423)”. Thus, Dr. Arvanitaki and Dr. Tchou Si-Ho were the first ones who studied this feature in the abdominal ganglion of Aplysia punctata (Hughes and Tauc, 1961; Kandel and Tauc, 1965; Koester and Kandel, 1977; Adams and Benson, 1985; Bailey and Chen, 1988; Cleary et al., 1991). As neurons are very difficult to grow, neurobiologists heavily depended on the established research methods, and Dr. Tchou’s work on the quantification of neuron cells and rhythmic discharge in Aplysia, as well as the experimental methods established during the researches, laid a solid foundation for the studies using Aplysia as a model organism. The following researches by many prominent neuroscientists has benefited from Dr. Tchou’s pioneering work. Such as Prof. Eric R. Kandel at Columbia University, who found that memory was linked to the synapses that connect nerve cells and uncovered its molecular mechanisms in Aplysia. Prof. Eric Kandel was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000. This was inseparable from the foundational work of Dr. Tchou and his colleagues on the investigation and establishment of Aplysia as a model organism (Coggeshall et al., 1966; Hughes, 1968; Peretz and Lukowiak, 1975; Shapiro et al., 1980).
Dr. Tchou had great interests in physiology, especially experimental psychology. Thus, from 1943 to 1945, Dr. Tchou enrolled in the University of Paris (Sorbonne), and began his researches on physiological psychology and applied psychology under the supervision of Profs. Paul Fraisse and Rene Zazzo, and later with the central figure of French psychology in the twentieth century, Prof. Henri Piéron, who was not only well known for his research in sensory physiology, but also the founder and director of the Institute of Psychology at the University of Paris. With the profound influence of Prof. Piéron, Dr. Tchou embarked on researches in physiological psychology and studied changes to various nerve cell activities in the brain resulting from human psychological activities in order to uncover the mystery origin of human life. In July 1945, Dr. Tchou decided to give up the plan to finish the PhD thesis in physiological psychology in Prof. Piéron’s laboratory, rejected the invitation of Prof. Alfred Burloud to stay at Rennes University and returned back to China.
Dr. Tchou made brilliant achievements in the fields of Western philosophy, aesthetics, physiology and psychology. With his in-depth researches in understanding the mysteries of human brain functions, he made outstanding contributions to the development of physiology and psychology in China. As he once said, “There is a common thread running through my lifetime’s learning, that is, to know the mystery of life, to understand people’s inner worlds, their psychological activities and psychological lives… It is the logical connection in my journey beginning from philosophy, to psychology, aesthetics, neurophysiology, physiological psychology, and finally, the life sciences (朱锡侯, 2011, p. 210)”.
This work was supported by grant ‘The National Social Science Foundation (16CZX015)’, and we also thank the daughter of Si-Ho Tchou-Xindi Zhou for photo supplies and use.
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