Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community. We post anatomical, medical or surgical terms, their meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History


William J. Larsen, PhD

An American scientist, Dr. Larsen was a gifted scientist, consistently producing research at the forefront of cell, developmental, and reproductive biology. Early in his career he published a landmark paper that conclusively established mitochondrial fission as the mechanism of mitochondrial biogenesis. He went on to become the first to demonstrate the endocytosis of gap junctions. Moreover, his work on the hormonal regulation of gap junction formation and growth culminated in an authoritative review article in Tissue and Cell, “Structural Diversity of Gap Junctions (1988)”, which became a citation classic.

Throughout his 25 year teaching career, his sixty-seven peer reviewed publications—not to mention numerous invited reviews, abstracts, and book chapters—covered a wide range of research areas including adrenal cortical tumor cells, human ovarian carcinomas, preterm labor, cumulus expansion, oocyte maturation, ovulation, folliculogenesis, and in-vitro fertilization.

In addition to his many contributions to basic research, Dr. Larsen loved to teach and was much appreciated by his students. His exceptional ability was reflected in the four teaching awards he received as a professor at the University of Cincinnati.

Notably, he was the author of Human Embryology, a textbook for medical students that was the first to incorporate modern experimental research into a subject that had traditionally been taught in a strictly descriptive style. On its initial publication in 1998 it was hailed as, “a magnificent book…” by the European Medical Journal. With the release of the fourth edition in 2008, the book was renamed “Larsen’s Human Embryology” in recognition of Dr. Larsen's place as the originator of this revolutionary text. This book is today in it's 6th Edition.

His stellar scientific career would be enough for most people, but Dr. Larsen pursued his numerous and varied interests with such extraordinary passion, energy, and skill that he seemed to have more hours in a day than the ordinary person. He was fascinated with the American Southwest and studied and collected traditional arts and crafts of the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo peoples. He was a woodworker who built three harpsichords and a fortepiano for his wife, and, with his two children, over 100 pieces of gallery-quality furniture. In addition, he loved to regale his friends, colleagues, and students with jokes and stories, and to share his love for gourmet cooking.

The William J. Larsen Distinguished Lecture Series

An annual lecture series was created for the Department of Cancer & Cell Biology at the University of Cincinnati to honor Dr. Larsen's research which was at the forefront of cell developmental and reproductive biology. This series recognizes forward-thinking research scientists in the field of developmental biology and asks that they share their research and findings with students and faculty of the University of Cincinnati, College of Medicine.

Personal note: I had the opportunity to meet and attend Dr. Larsen’s embryology lectures as he and I worked in the Anatomy, Embryology, and Histology program at the University of Cincinnati Medical College. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to have Dr. Larsen sign my personal copy of his book. He is sorely missed, Dr. Miranda


1. "The William J. Larsen Distinguished Lecture Series" University of Cincinnati, College of Medicine.
3. 2022 Larsen Lecture Series brochure (download here)
4. Dr. Larsen's family personal communications

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Jan Evangelista Purkinje

This article is part of the series "A Moment in History" where we honor those who have contributed to the growth of medical knowledge in the areas of anatomy, medicine, surgery, and medical research.To search all the articles in this series, click here.

Jan Evangelista Purkinje (1787 - 1869). Known by his German name Purkinje, or his Czech name, Purkyn?, as well as his church-given name Salverius. Purkinje was born in the city of Libochovice, Bohemia, (now Czechoslovakia). He started his early studies in the church with Piarist monks. He took the name of Brother Salverius and served as a teacher in the Piarist schools. He dedicated himself to the study of natural sciences. Purkinje left the monastery before taking his final vows.   Purkinje continued his studies and graduated in medicine in Prague. Even as a student Purkinje started research on the physics of sound and the physiology of vision, which he continued after his graduation. Purkinje was one of the first to understand the vision of motion, thus creating the first animated cartoons!

In 1823 Purkinje was appointed Professor of Physiology at the University of Wroclaw (Breslau), later taking the same chair in Prague. Besides being one of the first to propose experimental physiology as basis for research, Purkinje was one of the first to use the microscope to study the cells of the body, proposing the "cell theory", and introducing the word "protoplasm".

Jan Evangelista PurkinjeOriginal imagecourtesy of Wikipedia.
He made a number of discoveries, and his name is eponymically tied to many structures and processes, such as:

• Purkinje's cell of the cerebellum: Piriform cells found in Purkinje's layer
• Purkinje's fibers of the heart: These are not "fibers" as the name implies, but fast-conducting myocardial cells found as the most distal components of the conduction system of the heart
• Purkinje's law of vertigo: An observation that the apparent motion perceived when stopping the head after rotation changes from horizontal to vertical if the head is inclined laterally. This is important to pilots, as they are trained to understand that in conditions without external reference, moving the head down or laterally can induce uncontrollable vertigo.

1. "Purkinje JE (1845) Mikroskopisch-neurologische Beobachturgen" Arch Anat Physiol Wiss Med II/III:281-295

2. "Jan Evangelista Purkinje (1787-1869)" J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 1994 July; 57(7): 777 
3. "Jan Evangelista Purkinje (1787-1869)" Davies, MK; Hollman A. Heart (1996) 76(4): 311

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