Chapter 2 -The Beginning

There were many apparently unrelated threads which contributed to the eventual fabric of the I.S.N. In addition to the activities of the M.H.R.F. (from 1949) and the World Federation of Neurology (W.F.N., established in the 1950s), the first International Congress of Biochemistry (forerunner of the International Union of Biochemistry, I.U.B.) was held also in 1949 in London and included neurochemical contributions. Discussions amongst Japanese scientists at a meeting in 1958 led to the formation of the first neurochemical society, the Japanese Society for Neurochemistry, in 1962.

Parallel threads were the attention given to neurochemistry by the American Academy of Neurology in 1957 (Tower, 1958) and in the regular meetings of the Collegium Internationale Neuropsychopharmacologicum, initiated in Rome in 1958 (McIlwain, 1985). Neurochemical themes were thus appearing in national and international symposia organised by biochemists, neurologists and psychiatrists; these seemingly disparate activities generated a growing realisation that the subject clearly needed a forum specifically its own. So the idea of forming some sort of international forum for neurochemistry began to be discussed in the late 1950s by those principally involved in the early neurochemical symposia listed in Table 1. These informal discussions stimulated a letter from Jordi Folch-Pi and Heinrich Waelsch in May, 1962 to potential supporters, suggesting the formation of a Provisional Organising Committee (P.O.C.), which was set up in 1963. At about the same time Derek Richter approached Pergamon Press to enquire about the possibility of the copyright of the previously established Journal of Neurochemistry being transferred to the new society, once it had been founded. Membership of the P.O.C. had truly international representation, drawn essentially from the scientists who'd been prominent in the early symposia ( Folch-Pi, U.S.A.; Hyden, Sweden; Klenk, Germany; McIlwain, U.K.; Mandel, France; Palladin, U.S.S.R.; Pope, U.S.A.; Richter, U.K.; Rossiter, Canada; Takagaki, Japan and Waelsch,U.S.A) . Each member of that committee was asked to nominate 10 names as potential members of the new society - these names were collated in 1965 by Folch-Pi and the total list sent to the members of the committee, who voted. Each nominee needed 2 votes - a surprising number failed to obtain the 2-vote support. The final number approved was 79, which with the 11 members of the P.O.C. gave a total original membership of 90. The correspondence of the time (1964 to 1965) reveals considerable disagreement on the criteria required for membership. Derek Richter argued for membership being open to all those actively interested in neurochemistry. In a letter (archives) to Warren Sperry in November 1964, he gave his view that the society "would gain more than it could lose by extending its membership to anatomists, physiologists, pharmacologists, neuropathologists and neurologists with active neurochemical interests". Unfortunately this sane and liberal view did not prevail at the time and the outcome restricted membership to established neurochemists with little encouragement for young scientists or active investigators in closely-related disciplines. Careful reading of the correspondence of the time gives a clear impression of fears of domination by "research-naive" clinicians. Fortunately these misgivings did not persist for long as witnessed by the healthy and productive collaborations between clinicians and basic scientists that we now enjoy. Yet it was perceived as a real problem at the time. The outcome then was that the criteria were intended to restrict membership to those who had clearly established themselves as dedicated professional neurochemists (i.e. by having published 3 full neurochemical papers). The P.O.C. met in London in 1965, a few days prior to the Oxford meeting (Table 1), and announced its establishment during that meeting. The Officers and Council were quickly elected by postal ballot of the members, and new members were solicited by announcements which resulted in a membership of 226 by July 1967. Growth was slow over the first years but started to accelerate in the early 1970s (Fig. 1).

D Ricter H. Waelsch
D. Richter H. Waelsh
P. Mandel R. Rossiter
P. Mandel R. Rossiter

Table 1 : Major Neurochemical Symposia preceding formation of ISN

Year Venue Publication
1950 New York "The Biology of Mental Health & Disease" Milbank Conference, Hoeber, New York, 1952
1951 London "Metabolism & Function in Nervous Tissue" Biochem.Soc.Sympos. 8 ,1-102, 1952 (ed. R.T.Williams)
1952 Bristol [This was arguably the first truly International Neurochemical Meeting, organised by Derek Richter under the auspices of the newly-formed Mental Health Research Fund. A book was proposed but not published. It was at this meeting that the idea of regular international symposia was formalised]
1952 Oxford "Prospects in Psychiatric Research" Blackwell, Oxford, 1953 (ed. J.M. Tanner)
1954 Oxford "Biochemistry & the Developing Nervous System" * Acad. Press, New York, 1955 (ed. H. Waelsch)
1955 Atlantic City "Neurochemistry" Progr. Neurobiol. I, 1956 (ed. S.R. Korey & J.I. Nurnberger)
1956 Aarhus "Metabolism of the Nervous System" * Pergamon,London, 1957 (ed. D. Richter)
1956 Cleveland "Ultrastructural & Cellular Chemistry of Neural Tissue" Progr. Neurobiol. II, 1957 (ed. H. Waelsch)
1958 Vienna "Biochemistry of the CNS" Pergamon, New York, 1959 (ed. F.Brucke)
1958 Strasbourg "Chemical Pathology of the Nervous System" * Pergamon, London, 1961 (ed. J. Folch-Pi)
1958 Philadelphia "The Neurochemistry of Nucleotides & Amino Acids" Wiley, New York, 1960 (ed. R.O.Brady & D.Tower)
1959 Duarte "Inhibition of the Nervous System & g-Aminobutyric acid" Pergamon, New York, 1960 (ed. E.Roberts et al)
1960 Varenna "Regional Neurochemistry" * Pergamon, London, 1961 (ed. S.S. Kety & J. Elkes)
1962 Goteborg "Enzymic Activity of the Central Nervous System" Acta Neurol. Scand. 38, Suppl.1, 1962
1962 St. Wolfgang "Comparative Neurochemistry" * Pergamon, London, 1964 (ed. D. Richter)
1965 Oxford "Variation in Chemical Composition of the Nervous System as determined by Developmental & Genetic Factors" Pergamon Press, London, 1966 (ed. G.B. Ansell)+

* These meetings were designated International Neurochemical Symposia 1 to 5 respectively ; these earlier meetings were by invitation only and limited to ca. 100 participants (McIlwain, 1985; Tower, 1987) It was immediately before this meeting that the ISN was founded.

Note : scientists of the former U.S.S.R. organized a series of symposia on "Biochemistry of the Nervous System" in Kiev (1954 & 1957), Yerevan (1962), Tartu (1966), Tblisi (1968) and Leningrad (1972).

Figure 1

Figure 1. The numbers are total members, including Emeritus, Sustaining and Junior members, since the records do not always list these categories separately. When listed, full members were ca. 80% of the total. The fall in members in the mid-1980s was apparent rather than real : Frode Fonnum commented that it was due to improved membership lists which avoided duplication.
* Original invited members.

During this period (1965) Henry McIlwain and Derek Richter drafted the statutes for the new society and after some modifications these were formalised in July 1967 as the Articles of Association by the London solicitors, Adam Burn & Metson.

The proposed name of the fledgling society differed amongst the interested parties - thus we see letter-heads in 1964-1966 giving the title variously as "International Society of Neurochemists", "International Society of Neurochemistry" and "International Neurochemical Society". Our current title was first mentioned in correspondence in 1966 and was well accepted by time the Society was formed.

The Society quickly built on its gestation by organizing the biennial International Meetings which began in Strasbourg in 1967 and continue to flourish (Table 2). Earlier meetings had a central theme, often but not always of clinical significance ; the subject has now grown to the size that this is no longer possible. So many different specialties have to be included that numerous concurrent symposia and workshops have become inevitable. The Program Committee recognised the rapid and highly specialised growth of neurochemistry by organising a series of "state of the art " educational lectures in plenary sessions. One major function of international meetings is the informal discussions over coffee or a beer, particularly instructive to younger scientists, a feature which has been recognised in the travel grants now available.
[One of our recent Officers, Bernie Agranoff, has expressed his appreciation of these meetings with a treatise on the cultural and gastronomical delights of the venues in his personal recollections, preserved in the Archives].

In the early days, Abel Lajtha suggested the possibility of holding Satellite meetings on specialised topics at around the time of the main meeting. While there was some concern that these might interfere with the attendance at the meeting, Council agreed and they were very successful. Over the ensuing years the number of Satellites grew, some of which were held in places remote from the main meeting. As a result of this increase, the policy with regard to Satellite meetings began to cause some concern , because there were some meetings where a considerable proportion of participants attended Satellites but not the main meeting. This is understandable because financial support is usually easier to find for small specialised meetings on a specific theme than for general meetings. Nevertheless the I.S.N. exists essentially to promote the dissemination of neurochemistry, and if experts in specialised topics do not attend the main meetings, this rather defeats the object of the exercise! So the Council and Organising Committe in the run-up to the Nottingham meeting stressed the desirability of holding Satellites in the host country and preferably after the main meeting. While this is clearly desirable, it is usually difficult to ensure. Nevertheless the Satellites continue to make an important contribution to the interchange of ideas on specific circumscribed topics.

Table 2 : Bienniel ISN Meetings

Venue Year Participants* (active) Host
1. Strasbourg 1967 300 P. Mandel
2. Milan 1969 R. Paoletti
3. Budapest 1971 600 S.Huszak & J. Szentagothai
4. Tokyo 1973 700 Y. Tsukada
5. Barcelona 1975 800 J. Sabater
6. Copenhagen 1977 766 J. Clausen
7. Jerusalem+ 1979 880 S. Gatt
8. Nottingham 1981 830 J.N. Hawthorne
9. Vancouver 1983 1200 E. & P. McGeer
10. Riva del Garda 1985 865 G. Tettamanti
11. La Guiara@ 1987 750 M. Laufer
12. Albufiera 1989 1100 A. Carvalho
13. Sydney 1991 833 G. Johnston
14. Montpellier 1993 M. Recasens

+Discussions in Council on preparations for the meeting about possible insurance against disruption due to war!
* Often, only about 25-30% of the active participants were ISN members, which has caused concern in Council according to the minutes.
@ Joint meeting with A.S.N., which according to George Hashim, attracted some 450 accompanying participants.

We all owe a tremendous debt to our founders (particularly Jordi Folch-Pi, Henry McIlwain, Derek Richter and Heinrich Waelsch) for their foresight in creating the Society and their wisdom in its implementation - indeed it is only when perusing the correspondence of the time that one can appreciate how much time and energy they expended. It is not obvious to us now how difficult it must have been then to achieve a solid and harmonious international society, given the national aspirations, rivalries and cultural differences of the various individuals involved. Their contribution is often overlooked and it is fascinating to sense some of the feelings of the times we are describing, gauged from the minutes and correspondence available to us. As described above, the beginnings of I.S.N. were truly international - the great neurochemical pioneers who had established high quality research centres in the 1920s to 1960s were identifiable particularly in the U.S.A. and the U.K., with France, Italy, Japan and Sweden. [There were also important developments in the then U.S.S.R., and in Eastern European countries such as the then East Germany (D.D.R.), Czechoslovakia and Hungary, but due to the "cold war" these were not easily appreciated elsewhere]. So one can say the major innovative developments in neurochemistry were taking place mainly in Europe and the U.S.A.

This was reflected in the origins of the society's officers in the early years : the data of Table 3 show that from the years 1967 to 1981 the executive officers (Chair, Secretary and Treasurer) were 9 from the North Americas and 9 from Europe (in their differing capacities drawn from the U.K., 2; France, 1; Germany,1; Italy,1 and Norway,1). The "German" (Victor Whittaker) happened to be of British origin so the development of the society tended to be weighted towards, perhaps dominated by, English speaking officers. In these times when the English language is the "lingua franca" of international communication generally, this can produce an insidious problem in international science, not only for the communication of science in learned journals, but particularly in the organization of international scientific societies. In the debates inherent in the deliberations of the Councils, Executive Committees and General Business Meetings of scientific societies, the ability to "think on one's feet" is a major advantage to people speaking spontaneously in their own language - an advantage not acknowledged sufficiently frequently by native English speakers?

The minutes and correspondence of the first decade reveal considerable disquiet about the way the society was being run. It is indeed difficult to find the precise reasons for this disquiet - the main concerns seem to fall into two categories, expressed in diverse ways by different correspondents. The first, which has been a point of contention until relatively recently, was what was perceived as a rather cumbersome and bureaucratic method of approving new members and the criteria required were by no means universally accepted by existing members; and that in its early days, the running of the Society (clearly and explicitly expressed in the correspondence) could give the impression of being somewhat paternalistic, arbitrary and autocratic. The second was that there was so much activity in neurochemistry in many countries that some attention should be paid to regional Groups or Societies.

The dissatisfaction about accountability to the membership, and regarding participation of members in nominating candidates for election as officers were eventually, then quickly, resolved as described below with the establishment by the Council in 1975 of the Nominations Committee (Table 3).

Table 3 : Officers of the Society 1967 - 1991.

Year Chairman Secretary Treasurer PC MC CC NC FISN AHC PrC
1967 Rossiter+ Folch-Pi Richter Cumings Mandel
1969 Richter Folch-Pi Mandel Cumings Folch-Pi
1971 Folch-Pi+ Lajtha Mandel Richter Rossiter Cumings+ Paoletti, Folch-Pi
1973 Mandel+ Lajtha Ansell Tower Dahlstrom Riekkinen Tsukada
1975 Lajtha Aprison Ansell Tower Dahlstrom Svennerholm Whittaker Folch-Pi
1977 Ansell+ Aprison Kvamme Sokoloff Dahlstrom Blass Whittaker Heilbronn Lajtha Sourkes
1979 Aprison Porcellati Kvamme Wolfe Dahlstrom Blass Rodnight Johnston Lajtha Agranoff
1981 Kvamme Porcellati Boulton Wolfe Kurakawa Blass Rodnight Johnston Lajtha Fonnum
1983 Porcellati+ Whittaker Boulton Wolfe Kurakawa Rodnight Johnston Kvamme Shooter
1985 Boulton* Whittaker Agranoff Suzuki Kurakawa Cuenod Kvamme Winkler
1987 Hawthorne** Fonnum Agranoff Suzuki Zimmermann Tettamanti Boulton Hamprecht
1989 Agranoff Fonnum Suzuki Norton Zimmermann Tettamanti Hawthorne Morell
1991 Fonnum Bock Suzuki Norton Zimmermann Lunt Agranoff Livett

+Since deceased, *Acting Chairman after Guiseppi Porcellati's death in 1984, **Tim Hawthorne replaced Victor Whittaker as Secretary between 1986 and 1987

PC : Publications Committee; MC: Membership Committee; CC : Clinical Committee; NC : Nominations Committee (for elections of Officers and Council Members); FISN : Future of ISN Committee; AHC : Ad Hoc Committee; PrC : Programme Committee for bienniel meetings.

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