Neurology :: New book presents neurobiology from an evolutionary perspective

Cockroaches, leeches, and snails are ordinarily thought of as creepy pests or as an exotic dinner. But to biologists who are interested in behavior, memory, sensation, and other neurological phenomena, these organisms provide valuable information about the inner workings of complex nervous systems.

A new book, An Introduction to Nervous Systems, recently released by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press (, presents the fundamental principles of neurobiology from an evolutionary perspective.

It focuses on invertebrates–from simple, single-celled bacteria to more complex organisms such as flies, jellyfish, and crabs. Brimming with illustrations and written in a highly engaging manner, it is designed to introduce undergraduate and graduate students to the field of neurobiology. It is ideal for use as a supplemental textbook.

“The single-cell protozoan Paramecium, which has been likened to a neuron that swims, has much in common with our own nerve cells,” writes the author, Ralph J. Greenspan, in the Introduction to the book. “Neurons are for signaling…and the nature of those signals appears to have evolved very early–before multicellularity–and to have been well preserved ever since.”

The book starts with simpler organisms with more primitive neurological mechanisms, and shows how these mechanisms produce increasing neural complexity in higher species. It ends with a discussion of what is universal about nervous systems and what may be required, neurobiologically, to be human.

“The capabilities of invertebrates have traditionally been underestimated,” writes Greenspan. “Perhaps this is because they are not warm and fuzzy, or because they do not make very affectionate pets…For whatever reason, it has taken us an inordinately long time to realize that even the simplest animals have the capacity for modifying their behavior by adjusting the activities of their nervous systems.”

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