King's College London
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Mind Matters: neuroscience and psychiatry

Trip to Pavlov's laboratory

Papers of Hilda North Lewis College Archives IOP PP4 LEWIS, HN 2/2/1Papers of Hilda North Lewis College Archives IOP PP4 LEWIS, HN 2/2/1These notes describe the group’s visit to the laboratory of the Nobel Prize-winning physiologist Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1937). They concern in particular Pavlov’s methods for extracting gastric juice from dogs.

This activity had arisen from Pavlov’s interest in the connexions between the action of the digestive juices and the nervous system. His research concerning conditioned and unconditioned reflexes led him to conclude that the presence of food in the dog’s mouth excited a tangible response in the form of secretion of gastric juice long before the food had entered the stomach. In this, his work paralleled that of Charles Scott Sherrington on the role of reflex actions in controlling the nervous system.

For his experiments on the digestive system Pavlov performed oesophagotomies on the dogs, so that copious amounts of gastric juice were secreted while they were fed quantities of food which fell out of their necks. In order to ensure that the dogs received some nourishment, they were fed through a second opening in the stomach. In the space of an hour some 200 to 300 cubic centimetres of juice could be produced through what Pavlov termed a ‘physiological perpetuum mobile’. The dogs were employed for this purpose for an average of five or six years. During a typical session of two or three hours a group of dogs could be expected to produce about a quart and a half of juice.

Gastric juice had a crucial property (pepsin) which made it invaluable as a remedy to counteract the effects of the heavy, meat-laden meals which the aristocracy and bourgeoisie of pre-Revolutionary Russia were prone to consume. It was also marketed in France and Germany and proved a money-spinner for Pavlov’s laboratory. Only dogs could produce gastric juice in the right quantity and without a terrible stench. Pavlov never took out a patent on this method, however. Everybody who drank it reported miraculous results.

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