Andrew Huxley (Nov 22, 1917 – May 30, 2012): An Appreciation.

Andrew Huxley (Nov 22, 1917 – May 30, 2012): An Appreciation.


You may be familiar with his name. Although he was grandson to Thomas Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”) and half-brother to Julian Huxley (evolutionary biologist, founding member of WWF) and author Aldous Huxley (“Brave New World”), Andrew Huxley is famous in my field of ion channel research for explaining how nerves conduct electrical signals.

• 1n 1939, together with Alan Hodgkin, he inserted an electrode into the giant nerve of a squid. It was known that at rest, potassium ions (K+) moved out of the cell leaving the inside more negative than the outside by about 65 millivolts. When stimulated, the nerve would fire an action potential, lasting only a fraction of a millisecond. They captured the voltage changes during this fleeting action potential, showing that the charge difference reversed to positive inside the cell. Next, by diluting the sea water bathing the nerve, they showed this inward current was due to movement of sodium ions (Na+) into the nerve cell. Today, we know that these currents are carried by sequential opening and closing of ion channels. What is a squid giant axon? Watch this first:

Next, watch a re-enactment of their classic experiment and famous voltage clamp technique (ask me questions, I teach this) :

• Although their work was interrupted by WWII, during which Huxley turned his hands to radar and psychiatry, the two colleagues got back together in Cambridge, in 1946. They solved the set of simultaneous equations, using a postwar computing machine, to describe the ionic theory of nerve impulses. The Hodgkin-Huxley model laid the foundation for understanding how the nervous system works. For this, they received the Nobel prize in 1963.

• Huxley stumbled into Physiology by accident- he was hoping to be a physicist. “I had to do a third science, as well as the obvious subjects of maths, physics and chemistry. A chum of mine a few years older told me that physiology was a most vital subject, and I would be learning things that were still controversial.” What a perfect segue into electrophysiology!



#sciencesunday ScienceSunday 

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20 Responses to Andrew Huxley (Nov 22, 1917 – May 30, 2012): An Appreciation.

  1. Andrew Keith says:

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

  2. It is said Piracetam acts as non-specific ion channel modulator in such way that it leads to increased neuron excitability. Could you explain if this is actually possible. It was always confusing to me as it is anti-epileptic agent (even called magic bullet for myoclonus) but AFAIK one of the characteristics of epileptic attacks is hyperexcitability. 

  3. I had no idea he just died! Sad to hear, but he certainly had a worthwhile time! Another video I really love about the type of work they did is this one: The Squids Giant Axons

    The sheer size of the squid nerve is amazing, especially if you’re used to needing a microscope to even see the things. For someone born at the start of the digital age (like me) it’s also fascinating to see the techniques they employed to visualise their measurements and perform their calculations.

  4. Rajini Rao says:

    Miodrag Milić , Piracetam is a GABA derivative but its mode of action is unclear and it seems to be quite non-specific. GABA targets inhibitory neurons, so blocking inhibition increases excitability. Ad you note, there is a conflict if it is used to treat epilepsy. The problem is that there are hundreds of different ion channels with complex interactions. Sorry, I can’t be more helpful than that 🙂

  5. Rajini Rao says:

    Michael Clerx thank you for the video link The Squids Giant Axons. It is a great starting point for even a non biologist. Calling cephalopod fans Ralf Muschall and Dan Bowden who may be interested in the importance of squids in neuroscience research.

  6. Mark Hogan says:

    Fascinating history. Family get togethers most be have been engaging

  7. Rajini Rao I had heard about this, it was mentioned on many blogs when the tortured disemboweled squid-with-soy-sauce gif went through the intertubes.  And I think it is unjust that a tiny worm received three Nobel prizes and squid only one 😉

  8. Vinod Pandey says:

    Fascinating research by really truly scientific man, His research will keep alive him, in between us .

  9. Rajini Rao He died, the model lives.

  10. He lived a long productive life & continues to be an important scientific figure via his research. 

  11. Rajini Rao says:

    Pascal Wallisch, the scientific equivalent of the king has died, long live the king 😉

  12. Rajini Rao says:

    Prabat Parmal yes that’s right!

  13. Briliant minds never die!

  14. Even wn thy die, we keep them at heart!

  15. Thanks for this remembrance and neat animated GIF Rajini Rao .It’s been 40 years (+) since I first read of this in a physiological psych class, but it was memorable.

  16. Rajini Rao Come to think of it, my profile banner is now a dedicated memorial.

  17. Kevin Clift says:

    This is an echo of a comment I just added on SS:

    There is a ~1hr. video here from the BBC Archive, which unlike some videos, is available outside the UK. Thanks license payers!

    Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley were awarded the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which they shared with John Eccles, for their work on nerve action potentials. In this interview with Lewis Wolpert, the scientists explain how they came to collaborate on their particular field of research.

    I hope this wasn’t mentioned already in one of the links as I didn’t go back to them to check them diligently, .

  18. Ernest Rider says:

    This is so uncanny you bring this up after the ADP section.  Apparently narcosis is directly related conductivity of the nerve axon insulator mylin.  My personal experience is I am a paranoid narcotic around 5.15 atmospheres of 21EAN.

  19. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks to William McGarvey for posting a link to this well written perspective. Here’s the article that Bill found, it’s a good read:

  20. DaFreak says:

    I never knew that the Huxley family tree was that impressive. 🙂

    Does anyone know from which documentary this clip was taken?

    The Squids Giant Axons

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