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Introduction to Physiology

Physiology is the science of the functioning of living systems. It is a subcategory of biology. In physiology, the scientific method is applied to determine how organisms, organ systems, organs, cells and biomolecules carry out the chemical or physical function that they have in a living system. The word physiology is from Greek φ?σις, physis, "nature, origin"; and -λογ?α, -logia, "study of".


Human physiology dates back to at least 420 B.C. and the time of Hippocrates,[1] the father of medicine. The critical thinking of Aristotle and his emphasis on the relationship between structure and function marked the beginning of physiology in Ancient Greece, while Claudius Galenus (c. 126-199 A.D.), known as Galen, was the first to use experiments to probe the function of the body. Galen was the founder of experimental physiology.[2] The ancient Indian books of Ayurveda, the Sushruta Samhita and Charaka Samhita, also had descriptions on human anatomy and physiology. The medical world moved on from Galvanism only with the appearance of Andreas Vesalius and William Harvey.[3]

During the Middle Ages, the ancient Greek and Indian medical traditions were further developed by Muslim physicians, most notably Avicenna (980-1037), who introduced experimentation and quantification into the study of physiology in The Canon of Medicine. Many of the ancient physiological doctrines were eventually discredited by Ibn al-Nafis (1213-1288), who was the first physician to correctly describe the anatomy of the heart, the coronary circulation, the structure of the lungs, and the pulmonary circulation, for which he is considered the father of circulatory physiology.[4] He was also the first to describe the relationship between the lungs and the aeration of the blood, the cause of pulsation,[5] and an early concept of capillary circulation.[6]

Following from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance brought an increase of physiological research in the Western world that triggered the modern study of anatomy and physiology. Andreas Vesalius was an author of one of the most influential books on human anatomy, De humani corporis fabrica.[7] Vesalius is often referred to as the founder of modern human anatomy.[8] Anatomist William Harvey described the circulatory system in the 17th century,[9] demonstrating the fruitful combination of close observations and careful experiments to learn about the functions of the body, which was fundamental to the development of experimental physiology. Herman Boerhaave is sometimes referred to as a father of physiology due to his exemplary teaching in Leiden and textbook Institutiones medicae (1708).

In the 18th century, important works in this field were by Pierre Cabanis, a french doctor and physiologist.

In the 19th century, physiological knowledge began to accumulate at a rapid rate, most notably[peacock term] in 1838 with the Cell theory of Matthias Schleiden and Theodor Schwann, which radically stated that organisms are made up of units called cells. Claude Bernard's (1813-1878) further discoveries ultimately led to his concept of milieu interieur (internal environment), which would later be taken up and championed as "homeostasis" by American physiologist Walter Cannon (1871-1945).

In the 20th century, biologists also became interested in how organisms other than human beings function, eventually spawning the fields of comparative physiology and ecophysiology.[10] Major figures in these fields include Knut Schmidt-Nielsen and George Bartholomew. Most recently, evolutionary physiology has become a distinct subdiscipline[11].

See Also

  • Comparative physiology
  • Defense Physiology
  • Ecophysiology
  • Evolutionary physiology
  • Physiome
  • The Physiological Society
  • Somatopsychic


  1. ^Physiology - History of physiology, Branches of physiology
  2. ^Thoracic Surgery Clinics: Historical Perspectives of Thoracic Anatomy, Stanley C. Fell and F. Griffith Pearson
  3. ^Galen
  4. ^ Chairman's Reflections (2004), "Traditional Medicine Among Gulf Arabs, Part II: Blood-letting", Heart Views 5 (2), p. 74-85 [80].
  5. ^ Nahyan A. G. Fancy (2006), "Pulmonary Transit and Bodily Resurrection: The Interaction of Medicine, Philosophy and Religion in the Works of Ibn al-Naf?s (died 1288)", pp. 224-229, Electronic Theses and Dissertations, University of Notre Dame.[1]
  6. ^ Paul Ghalioungui, Ibn an-Nafis, Cairo, 1966, pp. 109-129, and "The West denies Ibn Al Nafis's contribution to the discovery of the circulation" for the Symposium on Ibn al-Nafis, Second International Conference on Islamic Medicine: Islamic Medical Organization, Kuwait, 1982.
  7. ^Page through a virtual copy of Vesalius's De Humanis Corporis Fabrica
  8. ^Andreas Vesalius (1514-1567)
  9. ^Zimmer, Carl. 2004. Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain - and How It Changed the World. New York: Free Press.
  10. ^ Feder, M. E., A. F. Bennett, W. W. Burggren, and R. B. Huey, eds. 1987. New directions in ecological physiology. Cambridge Univ. Press, New York.
  11. ^http://www.biology.ucr.edu/people/faculty/Garland/GarlCa94.pdf Garland, T., Jr., and P. A. Carter. 1994. Evolutionary physiology. Annual Review of Physiology 56:579-621.

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