John Call Dalton Jr

John Call Dalton Jr (1825 - 1889)

John Call Dalton Jr (1825 – 1889) was an American physiologist.

First full-time professor of physiology in the United States, and ‘possibly’ America’s first experimental neurophysiologist. Dalton introduced the experimental method of teaching physiology by demonstration of animals that had ablative lesions operated under ether anaesthesia.

He defended the humane use of animals as the ‘sole means of learning’ about the ‘vital function of life while life was going on’, anda that ‘all his seemingly cruel experiments could be carried out under the beneficent influence of anesthesia’

…these sciences have to do with the phenomena of life; and there is no way of learning what the vital phenomena are, except by examining them while life is going on. Experiments upon the living body are, for the physiologist, what experiments in chemistry are for the chemist

Experimentation on Animals (1875)

Dalton was an erudite medical educator and in 1878 his complete series of physiology lectures was published verbatim in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (now the NEJM)


  • Born 2 February 1825 in Chelmsford, Massachusetts
  • 1840 – 1844 Graduated A.B. Harvard College
  • 1844 – 1847 Graduated MD, Harvard University
  • 1847 – 1850 – Studied in Europe with Claude Bernard (1813 – 1878)
  • 1851 – American Medical Association Prize essay for “On the Corpus Luteum” attracting the attention of Austin Flint (1812 – 1886) and Frank Hamilton (1813 – 1886) of the University of Buffalo
  • 1851 – Professor of Physiology and Medical Jurisprudence, University of Buffalo. Dalton secured funds for equipment and animals to provide demonstration lectures to students of physiology
  • 1855 – Professor of Physiology, College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City
  • Dean of the College of Physicians and Surgeons
  • 1884 – President of the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York
  • 1885 – $500,000 donation of land and money from William H. Vanderbilt to build laboratories for instruction in physiology, pathology, and chemistry
  • Died 12 February 1899

Key Medical Contributions

In 1854 Dalton devised a method to directly observe the larynx of dogs during inspiration. He proved widening of the glottis was due to contraction of the posterior cricoarytenoid muscles; and by cutting the inferior laryngeal nerve he substantiated their innervation. Transection of both pneumogastric (vagus) nerves led to laboured breathing and death secondary to pulmonary oedema [On the movements of the glottis in respiration]

The Cerebellum

In 1859 (published 1861) Dalton confirmed the 1824 observations of Jean-Pierre-Marie Flourens (1794 – 1867), that partial destruction of the cerebellum in pigeons caused acute ataxia without weakness.

When the injury has been moderate in extent, so that the pigeon can still stand and walk, though imperfectly, there is often a very close and ludicrous resemblance to the effects of intoxication — the movements being still quite natural in force and rapidity, but their harmony and certainty being lost.

Dalton 1861: 84
John Call Dalton Jr 1859 pigeon cerebellum experiments 2
Pigeon rendered ataxic by cerebellar excision. Dalton 1864: 431

Cerebellar ablation was performed under ether anaesthesia to control bleeding and prevent pain to the pigeons. By increasing the size of the cerebellar lesions Dalton observed progressive degrees of incoordination in his pigeons. The pigeons recovered coordination, could eat unassisted, push away rival pigeons from their food, and fly at around 16 days following surgery. At this point, the pigeons with sacrificed, and the brains dissected. Dalton saw no regrowth of the remaining cerebellum to account for the recovery of function. Dalton concluded:

John Call Dalton Jr 1859 pigeon cerebellum experiments
Pigeon cerebellum mutilation. Dalton 1864: 433

…the permanent loss of a portion of the cerebellum does not permanently impair the power of muscular co-ordination. If, therefore, we are still to believe that the power of co-ordination resides in the cerebellum as a nervous centre, we must admit that, after the removal of a part of this ganglion, the remaining portions gradually become enabled to supply its place.

Dalton 1861: 88

Major Publications

Physiology lecture series

Delivered at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York as recorded by P. Brynberg Porter MD


BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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