Charles Scott Sherrington was born on November 27, 1857, at Islington, London. He was the son of James Norton Sherrington, of Caister, Great Yarmouth, who died when Sherrington was a young child.
Sherrington’s mother later married Dr. Caleb Rose of Ipswich, a good classical scholar and a noted archaeologist, whose interest in the English artists of the Norwich School no doubt gave Sherrington the interest in art that he retained throughout his life.
In 1881 he attended a medical congress in London at which Sir Michael Foster discussed the work of Sir Charles Bell and others on the experimental study of the functions of nerves that was then being done in England and elsewhere in Europe.
At this congress controversy arose about the effects of excisions of parts of the cortex of the brains of dogs and monkeys done by Ferrier and Goltz of Strasbourg.
Subsequently, Sherrington worked on this problem in Cambridge with Langley, and with him published, in 1884, a paper on it. In this manner Sherrington was introduced to the neurological work to which he afterwards devoted his life.
In 1885 Sherrington went, as a member of a Committee of the Association for Research in Medicine, to Spain to study an outbreak of cholera, and in 1886 he visited the Venice district also to investigate the same disease, the material then obtained being examined in Berlin under the supervision of Virchow, who later sent Sherrington to Robert Koch for a six weeks’ course in technique.
Sherrington stayed with Koch to do research in bacteriology for a year, and in 1887 he was appointed Lecturer in Systematic Physiology at St. Thomas’s Hospital, London, and also was elected a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.
In 1891 he was appointed in succession to Sir Victor Horsley, Professor and Superintendent of the Brown Institute for Advanced Physiological and Pathological Research in London. In 1895 he became Professor of Physiology at the University of Liverpool.
In the same year of 1885, Sherrington was given the chance to travel to Berlin to seek help from Rudolf Virchow in studying the specimens of cholera that he had brought home from Spain.
He was eventually sent to Robert Koch where he learned more about technique and bacteriology. He stayed with Koch for a year, after which he had greatly expanded his knowledge in physiology, histology, morphology and pathology.
With his knowledge, he was again chosen to investigate another cholera outbreak, this time in Italy. This was where he formed an even greater addiction for rare books.
It was in 1895 that Sherrington was appointed as a full professor for the first time. He became Holt Professor of Physiology and continued to work on his research about reciprocal innervations and reflexes.
This also signaled the end of his work in pathology. In 1932, Sherrington was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering the different functions on neurons.
He shared this award with Edgar Douglas Adrian, his colleague and a very good friend. Sherrington was also recognized as the person who coined the terms “neuron” and “synapse”.