Charles Sherrington: Biography, Quotes & Discovery

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
If you've ever studied neurology, then you've certainly hear of proprioceptors and synapses. Find out what Charles Sherrington has to do with these terms in this lesson.

Charles Sherrington

If you study neurology at any point in your life, then one of the most important and basic things you'll learn about is something called a synapse. A synapse is a place where biochemical information is transmitted from a neuron (nerve cell) to another cell, which may or may not be a nerve cell. You can thank Charles Scott Sherrington for coining this famous term.

Personal Life & Education

Sherrington was born on November 27th, 1857 in Islington (London), England. Sherrington's biological father was James Norton Sherrington who died when Sherrington, and his brothers, were very young. His mother re-married later on, to Dr. Caleb Rose, a relatively well-known archaeologist at the time. Most likely, his stepdad's scientific ways influenced Sherrington to pursue a scientific field of his own.

However, Sherrington wasn't just about science when growing up. He loved the arts, developing a fondness for Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer in later life, and he loved to play sports. For instance, he played soccer for Ipswich Grammar School, which he attended in 1871. Later on, he played for English soccer club Ipswich Town. He even rowed in college and played rugby as well. So he was definitely an all-around star in many ways.

Sherrington studied medicine at St. Thomas' Hospital Medical School and he was a fellow at Caius College, Cambridge. He married Ethel Wright in 1892.

His contemporaries described Sherrington as a relatively well-built man, shortsighted, and one who didn't tire very easily. He was very humble, generous, and friendly. He was apparently always willing to sacrifice his personal time to help advise others as well. Sherrington passed away on March 4th, 1952 in Eastbourne, England as a result of heart failure.


In the near century that Sherrington was alive, he published over 200 papers in fields ranging from neurology to bacteriology to cancer. As a result, we cannot possibly cover all of his contributions to science but we will focus on some specific ones so you'll get an idea of his importance to the scientific field.

If we can sum up Sherrington's most important contribution, then it would be in describing some of the most important and fundamental principles of the mammalian nervous system. Thanks to his research and discoveries, we now better understand:

  • How mammalian reflexes and muscle movements work. For instance, Sherrington's law basically states that if a muscle is activated, then the muscles opposing the latter's action relax to allow for the latter's proper motion.
  • How sense organs can be delineated into certain groups based on major function. As a result, he also coined the term proprioceptive. Proprioceptive receptors (proprioceptors) help detect our body's motion and position in space thanks to stimuli that arise within our bodies.

Thanks to his work, Sherrington was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1932 for his discoveries regarding the functions of neurons.

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