C. Ladd Prosser

42nd APS President (1969-1970)
C. Ladd Prosser

Writing of his service on Council and in presidential offices of APS, Prosser recalled many rewarding experiences association with high-quality physiologists, Washington contacts, and successes of both the publication and the education programs. At the same time he reported that a prominent recollection is one of "frustration."

"Before I was a member of Council, I was appointed to the first Education Committee, organized in 1953 under the chairmanship of Edward Adolph. The third member was William Amberson. At this time Milton Lee was turning the executive secretaryship over to Ray Daggs, who strongly supported educational activities. My own effort was to strengthen teaching of physiology to undergraduates. We obtained funds to organize summer workshops for college teachers. I directed the first, at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where twenty teachers heard from several research physiologists and discussed laboratory experiments. We started to assemble a laboratory manual under the supervision of Louise Wilson of Wellesley College. Because the college teachers wanted to do research in which their undergraduate seniors could participate, we obtained a grant from NIH to APS for a program under which a college teacher might obtain up to $500 annually. Applications were evaluated by the Education Committee, supplemented by ad hoc reviewers. The program went well for several years, until the bureaucrats at the NIH decided not to make grants which finally would be allocated by a non-NIH committee. The program died . . . . Frustration..."

"Another continuing interest of mine was the establishment of APS as a parent organization for all areas of physiology not just for those of interest to medical physiologists. In the mid-1950s the biophysicists formed their own society, and the Society of General Physiologists was founded, largely by the Woods Hole group. At about this same time, for the American Society of Zoologists, I served on a committee that led to creation of some six semi-autonomous divisions of the society, each of which was permitted to expand according to membership need. One of the growing divisions was comparative physiology. Because its members wanted a publication, I tried to strengthen the section of comparative physiology in the American Journal of Physiology, which had become simply a catch-all for papers without obvious medical orientation. A proposal that this journal section be sponsored by the Division of Comparative Physiology of the American Society of Zoologists was rejected by Council. . . ."

"As president of APS, I pursued the constitutional changes needed for sectionalization of the Society along the lines of the American Society of Zoologists. Neurophysiologists were then threatening to form a society, and I did not want to see this large area of physiology become independent of APS. After extensive debate, Council decided to put the question of sectionalization to a vote at the Spring Business Meeting. When the vote went against my recommendation as president, I was genuinely disappointed."

"Now, some fifteen years later, the Society has established sections that may help prevent further fragmentation of the APS. Meanwhile, we did manage to add representatives from general and from comparative physiology to the American Committee for IUPS and the international congresses. In hindsight, it probably was best that the biophysicists, the general, and then the comparative and the neurophysiologists did form separate societies. Each has become scientifically strong. I believe, however, that there remains a need for a parent organization that can represent all of physiology in Washington and to the public and also can strengthen teaching and recruitment at all levels. . . . Moreover the upgrading of education for the Ph.D. degree in physiology requires a continuous and united action by members of all these societies."

Ladd Prosser was born in Avon, New York, and earned his A.B. degree at the University of Rochester (1929), followed by the Ph.D. degree from Johns Hopkins University (1932). For two years he was a Parker Fellow, first at Harvard University Medical School and then at Cambridge University, England. He was a member of the faculty of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts (1934-37), until he joined the Department of Physiology of the University of Illinois in Urbana as an assistant professor (1937). By 1949 he was a professor there; from 1960 to 1969 he was head of the department, and in 1975 he became professor emeritus without perceptible change in his academic or scientific life.

Prosser's research interests encompass a variety of comparative fields. He wrote:
"My interest in the nervous systems of invertebrates was initiated in 1927 by Herrick's book, Neurological Basis of Behavior. I learned general physiology from S O. Mast at Johns Hopkins and electrophysiology at Harvard, principally from Hallowell Davis. In England, I learned much from E. D. Adrian and J. C. Eccles. My first job was at Clark University where Hudson Hoagland introduced me to academic politics. During World War II, I was active in radiation biology and biophysics as Associate Section Chief for Biology at the Metallurgical Laboratory of the Manhattan Project, with K. S. Cole as my section chief. Before the war and afterwards, contacts at Woods Hole in the Marine Biological Laboratory were important to me."

Topics that have been of greatest interest to Prosser include 1) nervous system of invertebrate animals; 2) comparative physiology of muscles; 3) theory of physiological adaptation; 4) temperature adaptation, both metabolic and neural, mostly in fishes; 5) the mechanism of rhythmicity in intestinal muscle; and 6) electrical properties of smooth muscle. Representative papers on these problems are included in the bibliography that follows. His complete bibliography includes summarizing articles on comparative physiology of nerve systems and sense organs (Annu. Rev. Physiol., 1954), physiological variation in animals (, 1955), theoretical aspects of adaptation (Handbook of Physiology, 1968), smooth muscle (Annu.. Rev. Physiol., 1974), temperature compensation in poikilotherms (Physiol. Rev., 1974), slow rhythmic activity in gastrointestinal muscles (9), and evolution and diversity of nonstriated muscle (13). Prosser noted:

"The series of papers on rhythmic activity in intestinal muscle has established the concept of rhythmic electrogenic sodium pump and has contributed to understanding of intercellular conduction in smooth muscle (5-11). . . . Recently a series of papers examines mechanisms of compensatory acclimation of fishes to heat and cold (cf. refs. 8 and 12). One aspect of these mechanisms deals with changes in activities of energy-yielding enzymes, with explanations in terms of protein synthesis. Another aspect deals with changes in membrane phospholipids. Adaptations in behavior and the central nervous concomitants include synaptic failure as the most sensitive effect of temperature stress."

Prosser has enjoyed a more varied career than many of his contemporaries. He served at various times as visiting professor at the Universities of Washington, Stanford, Massachusetts, Arizona State, and Hawaii. In 1950, after many years of summer research at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, he was elected a trustee of that laboratory. For a year (1963-64) he was a Guggenheim Fellow at the University of Munich, and later (1971-72) he was International Exchange Fellow at Monash University in Australia. When he took office as president elect of APS (1968) he had already served as president of the Society of General Physiologists (1958-59) and the American Society of Zoologists (1961). In 1957 Prosser became a fellow of AAAS (Boston) and in 1974 was chosen for membership in NAS. He received the honorary degree of doctor of science from Clark University in 1975. He is a foreign associate of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences.

Elected to APS in 1935, Prosser's first committee assignment was as a member of the Education Committee (1953-59). At about the time of his election to Council in 1967, he became active in the service of APS publications, as a member of the Handbook Committee (1967-72), section coeditor for comparative and general physiology of the American Journal of Physiology (1968-71), and section editor for muscle physiology (1970-71). More recently he was a member of the Senior Physiologists Committee (1978-81). In 1983 he was the recipient of the Society's Ray G. Daggs Award.

As a champion of the importance of comparative physiology, Prosser has represented this discipline on numerous editorial boards and committees. These include the American Journal of Physiology, the Journal of Comparative Physiology, Digestive Disease, and Science. From 1975 he has been co-managing editor of Physiological Zoology. Perhaps his most important work as author and editor, however, is the monograph and textbook, Comparative Animal Physiology, published in 1951 and revised in 1961 and 1973 (3). It has been translated into three foreign languages, including Russian, and has been a major factor in establishing comparative physiology as an independent discipline both in theory and practice.

In commenting on his association with APS, Prosser noted other significant events that came to pass. These included completion of the Lee Building, which permitted expanding the scope of the Society's publications. He also took part in debates over how strongly APS should support the AIBS and how generously NIH should support training programs. Finally, when Ray Daggs was about to retire from his office, Prosser proposed Orr Reynolds for the position and saw his nomination safely through confirmation by Council. Ladd concluded his recollections of his involvement with the Society with these words:

"The future of APS is again being debated. I urge my young colleagues not to lose sight of the breadth of the subject. The functional organization of living organisms continues to provide inspiration to all who appreciate the beauty of biological function and who recognize that we can better understand humans by studying physiology of all sorts of organisms at molecular, cellular, and organismic levels."

"Inspiration" in place of "frustration"!

Selected Publications

1. Prosser, C. L. Action potentials in the nervous system of the crayfish. I. Spontaneous impulses. J. Cell. Comp. Physiol. 4: 185-209, 1934.

2. Prosser, C. L. An analysis of the action of acetylcholine on hearts, particularly in arthropods. Biol. Bull. Woods Hole 83: 145-164, 1942.

3. Prosser, C. L., F. A. Brown, D. W. Bishop, T. L. Jahn, and V. J. Wulff. Comparative Animal Physiology. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 1951. [Prosser was general editor and author of 13 of the 23 chapters.]

4. Prosser, C. L., C. E. Smith, and C. E. Melton. Conduction of action potentials in the ureter of the rat. Am. J. Physiol. 181: 651-660, 1955.

5. Kobayashi, M., T. Nagai, and C. L. Prosser. Electrical interaction between muscle layers of cat intestine. Am. J. Physiol. 211: 1281-1291, 1966.

6. Papasova, M., T. Nagai, and C. L. Prosser. Two-component slow waves in smooth muscle of cat stomach. Am. J. Physiol. 214: 695-702, 1968.

7. Prosser, C. L., and H. Ohkawa. Functions of neurons in enteric plexuses of cat intestine. Am. J. Physiol. 222: 1420-1426, 1972.

8. Hazel, J. R., and C. L. Prosser. Molecular mechanisms of temperature compensation in poikilotherms. Physiol. Rev. 54: 620-677, 1974.

9. Prosser, C. L., J. A. Connor, and W. A. Weems. Types of slow rhythmic activity in gastrointestinal muscles. In: Physiology of Smooth Muscle, edited by E. Bulbring and M. F. Shuba. New York: Raven, 1976, p. 99-109.

10. Prosser, C. L., J. A. Connor, and D. L. Kreulen. Interaction between longitudinal and circular muscle in intestine of cat. J. Physiol. Lond. 273: 665-689, 1977.

11. Mangel, A. W., D. O. Nelson, J. A. Connor, and C. L. Prosser. Contractions of cat small intestinal smooth muscle in calcium-free solution. Nature Lond. 281: 582-583, 1979.

12. Nelson, D. O., and C. L. Prosser. Temperature-sensitive neurons in the preoptic region of sunfish. Am. J. Physiol. 241 (Regulatory Integrative Comp. Physiol. 10): R259- R263, 1979.

13. Prosser, C. L. Evolution and diversity of nonstriated muscles. In: Handbook of Physiology. Vascular Smooth Muscle, edited by D. F. Bohr, A. P. Somlyo, and H. V. Sparks, Jr. Bethesda, MD: Am. Physiol. Soc., 1980, sect. 2, vol. II, chapt. 21, p. 635-670.

14. Prosser, C. L., and D. O. Nelson. The role of nervous system in temperature adaptation of poikilotherms. Annu. Rev. Physiol. 43: 281-300, 1981.