• R. D. O’Brien


Atropine is one of the oldest known poisons, with references to plant extracts that contain it going back to the Ebers papyrus of 1550 B.C. Its name derives from the plant which produces it, Atropa belladonna, or deadly nightshade. Atropos was the Greek Fate whose business was to cut the thread of life (spun by her kindlier sister), without regard to sex, age, or quality; her name means “unmovable.” This etymology is a reflection of its long history of use as a poison, having been referred to as such by authors from Pliny to Shakespeare. By contrast, the belladonna (“beautiful woman”) term refers to its use by women, up to the nineteenth century, to dilate their pupils and thus enhance their beauty (the catastrophic effects on vision being presumably of lesser importance). Thus the toxic and the parasympatholytic properties have long been entwined in the plant’s name, which was given by Linnaeus in 1753. Atropine itself was discovered in 1809 by Vacquelin, and isolated in 1831 by Mein.


Acetylcholine Receptor Cholinergic Receptor Acetylcholine Release Cortical Slice Atropine Sulfate 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1974

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. D. O’Brien
    • 1
  1. 1.Section of Neurobiology and BehaviorCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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