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From Leningrad to London: The Saga of Kulchitsky and the Legacy of the Enterochromaffin CellDrozdov I.a · Modlin I.M.a · Kidd M.a · Goloubinov V.V.b
aGastrointestinal Pathobiology Research Group, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn., USA; bDepartment of Psychology, Saratov State University, Saratov, Russian Federation
By the end of the 19th century, the subject of internal secretion and the consequences of its perturbations had been explored in considerable depth but with little clear understanding. Despite the anatomic delineation of the majority of the glands and tissues that comprised the gross endocrine system, the cellular basis and the interactions between the ‘internal glands’ and the nervous system had not been clearly delineated. Prominent early investigators in the field included Rudolf Peter Heidenhain (1834–1897), who described a novel class of clear cells (1868), Paul Langerhans (1847–1888), who identified pancreatic islets in 1869, and M.C. Ciacco (1877–1956), who coined the term ‘enterochromaffin’ (1906). Their contributions facilitated the description of the diffuse neuroendocrine system (DNES) by F. Feyrter (1938) which allowed for the understanding of a syncytial regulatory system that consisted of both endocrine and neural components. This rich developmental history often reveals the name of Kulchitsky, but little recognition has been given to his seminal contributions. Indeed the Russian, Nikolai Konstantinovich Kulchitsky (1856–1925), both due to his modest and unassuming nature and the tragic events of his life, was little recognized and has been relegated to a mere eponymous attribution. In reality, his life bears legacy to rich scientific contributions spanning a great teaching and scientific career at Kharkov University, to responsibilities as the Imperial Minister of Education for all of Russia. He identified the Kulchitsky cell, trained and mentored numerous professors of histopathology, was incarcerated by the Bolsheviks and worked in a soap factory to save his life. He and his family finally fled on a British battleship with the remnants of the Russian Royal family to England where he secured a position with Bayliss and Starling at University College, London (UCL). His mysterious demise in a lift-shaft accident on his 69th birthday tragically terminated a life of great service to science and teaching. He excelled as a histopathologist and was responsible for the early description of tonsillar and gut epithelial leucocytes as well as defining components of the Ascaris life cycle. At UCL, his contributions to the anatomic delineation of muscle nerve endings were highly regarded and widely admired. It is, however, his identification of the enterochromaffin cell in 1897 for which he is most remembered since this observation formed the basis for the subsequent delineation of the DNES and provided the cellular framework on which the discipline of gut neuroendocrinology would be established.
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