Walter Holbrook Gaskell

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Gaskell, Walter Holbrook


Born Nov. 1, 1847, in Naples; died Sept. 7, 1914, in Great Shelford, near Cambridge. English physiologist.

Gaskell worked at Cambridge University, from which he had graduated in 1878. He became a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1882. In that year he discovered, almost simultaneously with I. P. Pavlov (in 1881), that heart contractions in the turtle can be intensified by stimulating the sympathetic nerve fibers. According to Gaskell’s myogenic theory of cardiac automatism, the cause of the automatism of heart contractions is to be found in the heart muscle itself, although the nerve cells regulate its functional state. He discovered the law of the so-called heart gradient: that automatism in a given section of cardiac wall in vertebrates decreases with its distance from the venous end of the heart. He found a certain atypical muscle tissue in the hearts of cold-blooded animals, directly involved in the origin and conduction of the impulse. (The corresponding tissue in warm-blooded animals is called the bundle of His.) He was the first to use the term “heart block” to characterize the disruption of cardiac conduction. Investigating the structure of the autonomic nervous system, Gaskell showed that the pathways of the sympathetic and vagus nerves consist of both preganglionic and postganglionic neurons.


The Origin of Vertebrates. London-New York, 1908.
The Involuntary Nervous System. London-New York, 1916.