, Volume 9, Issue 2–3, pp 167–179 | Cite as

What’s Black and White About the Grey Matter?

  • Rodney J. Douglas
  • Kevan A. C. MartinEmail author


In 1873 Camillo Golgi discovered his eponymous stain, which he called la reazione nera. By adding to it the concepts of the Neuron Doctrine and the Law of Dynamic Polarisation, Santiago Ramon y Cajal was able to link the individual Golgi-stained neurons he saw down his microscope into circuits. This was revolutionary and we have all followed Cajal’s winning strategy for over a century. We are now on the verge of a new revolution, which offers the prize of a far more comprehensive description of neural circuits and their operation. The hope is that we will exploit the power of computer vision algorithms and modern molecular biological techniques to acquire rapidly reconstructions of single neurons and synaptic circuits, and to control the function of selected types of neurons. Only one item is now conspicuous by its absence: the 21st century equivalent of the concepts of the Neuron Doctrine and the Law of Dynamic Polarisation. Without their equivalent we will inevitably struggle to make sense of our 21st century observations within the 19th and 20th century conceptual framework we have inherited.


Neuron Doctrine Law of Dynamic Polarisation Golgi stain Canonical cortical circuits High-throughput circuit reconstruction 



We thank our colleagues in the INI for unrelenting discussions and unsparing debates. This review formed the basis of a lecture given by KACM at the Diadem Grand Challenge final at HHMI Janelia Farm. Supported by EU SECO grant 216593 to both authors and Human Frontiers Science Program grant RG 0123/2000-B to KACM.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of NeuroinformaticsUZH/ETHZürichSwitzerland

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