neurophysiologist who studied the structure and function of the nervous
system. The Integrative Action of the Nervous System 1906 formulated the
principles of reflex action. Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine 1932.
He showed that when one set of antagonistic muscles is activated, the opposing set is inhibited. This theory of reciprocal innervation is known as Sherrington's law.
Sherrington also identified the regions of the brain that govern movement and sensation in particular parts of the body.
Sherrington was born in London and studied there at St Thomas's Hospital and at Cambridge. He became professor at London University's veterinary institute 1891, at Liverpool 1895, and was professor of physiology at Oxford 1913-35. During World War I, for three months he worked incognito as a labourer in a munitions factory, and the observations he made there did much to improve safety for factory workers.
One of Sherrington's findings, published 1894, was that the nerve supply to muscles contains 25-50% sensory fibres, as well as motor fibres concerned with stimulating muscle contraction. The sensory fibres carry sensation to the brain so that it can determine, for example, the degree of tension in the muscles. Sherrington divided the sense organs into three groups: interoceptive, characterized by taste receptors; exteroceptive, such as receptors that detect sound, smell, light, and touch; and proprioceptive, which involve the function of the synapse (Sherrington's word) and respond to events inside the body.
In 1906 Sherrington investigated the scratch reflex of a dog, using an electric 'flea', and found that the reflex stimulated 19 muscles to beat rhythmically five times a second, and brought into action a further 17 muscles which kept the dog upright. The exteroceptive sensors initiated the order to scratch, and the proprioceptors initiated the muscles to keep the animal upright.
Sherrington also carried out significant work in the development of antitoxins, particularly those for cholera and diphtheria.