John M. Brookhart

38th APS President (1965-1966)
John M. Brookhart
(1913-1995)

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, John Brookhart completed both his undergraduate and his graduate studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He had intended to become a physician. In his senior year in college, however, he was introduced to experimental science by Alvalyn Woodward by way of an elective problem course. As a result, he enrolled in Robert Gesell's department as a graduate student in physiology and received his master's degree in 1936 and his Ph.D. in 1939. The following year he was a postdoctoral fellow in S. W. Ranson's Institute of Neurology at Northwestern University in Chicago. He then joined successively the faculties of Loyola University School of Medicine (1940-46), University of Illinois College of Medicine (1946-47), and the Department of Physiology at Northwestern University Medical School (194-49). In 1949 he became an associate professor in the Department of Physiology of the University of Oregon Medical School in Portland, where he served only three years before being appointed professor and chairman of the department (1952-79). This was followed by four years (1979-83) as Acting Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.

Brookhart has identified Robert Gesell and S. W. Ranson as important preceptors in his development as a scientist. He moved from Gesell's laboratory to Ranson's at a time when both of these senior physiologists were interested in neural control of pulmonary ventilation and had come to contrary conclusions on how the central control mechanisms are organized. Before he left Michigan, Brookhart had written a paper on the respiratory effects of faradic stimulation of the medulla oblongata (2). But when he reached Chicago, instead of going on with this research, he was asked to collaborate with Fred Day in the study of possible neural control of reproduction (3). During the war years he temporarily left neurophysiology and participated with others in studies of cardiac functions influenced by respiration (4). Later, in other settings, he returned to studies of the nervous system, where his interest was fostered by association with H. W. Magoun of Northwestern and G. Moruzzi, a neurophysiologist from Pisa, Italy, who collaborated with Magoun. Of his early laboratory experience, Brookhart wrote, "In truth, this business of research training never ceases and is really a continuous process for as long as one continues to be active." Then, after mentioning the names of Gesell, Ranson, Moruzzi, and Magoun, he added:
"Theodore Boyd [his chairman at Loyola] probably shaped me more importantly in a number of ways. We worked together during the war years in a poorly supported, poorly equipped, poorly housed small medical school. The teaching load was exceedingly heavy because of the increase in class size and the paucity of faculty members. Nevertheless I learned from him the value of patient persistence, the rewards of doing things for oneself, and ways of analyzing problems to select the best solution. . . . It was an influence on general attitudes and habits that certainly impacted my life as a scientist."

From the year of his first appointment to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study section (physiology, 1951-55), Brookhart served on a succession of committees and councils, and as a consultant, to NIH, the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Blindness, NSF, and the Officer of Naval Research. For two terms (1959-62 and 1976-79) he was a member of the Physiology Test Committee of the National Board of Medical Examiners. In many of these appointments he represented neurophysiology or psychobiology, but he also provided a more generalized type of counsel (e.g., on the Advisory Council on Health Research Facilities for NIH, 1967-71). His participation in international scientific organizations is of long standing. In 1965 he was a delegate to the General Assembly of IUPS in Tokyo, Japan, as he was again at the IUPS Congress in 1968 in Washington, D.C., in 1971 in Munich, and in 1974 in New Delhi, India. From 1969 to 1975 he was a member of the U.S. National Committee of IUPS. Then for six years (1974-80) he was treasurer and a member of the Executive Committee of the parent organization, IUPS. After the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) was formed in 1961, Brookhart was a member of the Central Council (1966-68 and 1974-77).

Among other honors he has received, Brookhart was elected a fellow of AAAS (Boston) in 1967. Ten years earlier he had been a Fulbright Research Scholar at the University of Pisa (1956-57) and had been elected to foreign membership in the Accademia delle Science dell' Instituto di Bologna. In 1974 he was the first recipient of the Ray G. Daggs Award of APS.

Brookhart's contributions to the Society have been in three somewhat different types of office. He was a member of Council (1960-64) and continued there as president elect, president and past president until 1967. During this time (1961) the Society's constitution was revised to limit the independence of the Board of Publication Trustees and to establish the Council-dependent Finance and Publications Committees. Secondly, Brookhart was a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Neurophysiology (1960-64) and thus was involved in negotiations for purchase of that journal from Yale University and Charles C Thomas in 1961. For the following ten years (1964-74), a period when its eminence among scientific journals became firmly established, Brookhart was chief editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology. He was associated with the Handbook of Physiology as a member of the Editorial Board (1967- 72). With Vernon B. Mountcastle, he organized the first revision of the Handbook of Physiology section on the nervous system. Finally, as chairman of the Finance Committee for APS for six years (1967-73), Brookhart assisted in a reorganization of the Society's business operations, which he described as follows:

"During several years as a member of Council, I learned a lot about the interrelations between the Federation (Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology, FASEB) and the APS. At that time, all APS financial transactions, except those related to the Publications Contingency and Reserve Fund, were carried out through the FASEB Business Office on a fee-for-service basis. The income to the Society and publications operating accounts was received by the Federation, and disbursements were made by the Federation. Because of the periodicity of dues and subscription collections, sizable amounts would accumulate in these accounts for eventual payout over the year. The Federation Executive Director and the Comptroller looked upon this . . . as money controlled by the Federation. . . . Annual reports were quite unsatisfactory. Any income from the short-term investment of these collections was credited to Federation accounts. Since we were dealing with annual turnovers approximating a million dollars, this income could have been a significant source of revenue for the Society. . . ."

"With vigouous and persistent effort on the part of Ray Daggs, Council was persuaded to plan during 1963-64 for the creation of its own business office and for discontinuing the use of the Federation's services. This was brought into being during my term as president. . . . The transition was smooth from the point of view of the APS, [and] I don't know of anyone who thinks now that we erred. The APS Business Office has provided the Society with greatly improved control and accounting, and the cost of the new operation . . . was more than made up by income from prudent short-term investments. The important result has been that the APS has had the financial flexibility to engage in a number of innovative activities that would otherwise have been impossible."

As his bibliography indicates, from the time he left the influence of the Ranson laboratory and that of Boyd, Brookhart's interests have been focused on the central nervous system in particular, on the control of skeletal muscle. He wrote:

"My research interests have centered primarily on ways in which the brain's functions are manifested in motor neuronal output. . . . The early studies of respiratory control, the venture into hypothalamic influences on mating behavior, the inquiry into some of the characteristics of the corticospinal system, the intracellular study of frog motor neurons, and finally, the last several years of work with postural control mechanisms all fit this basic formula. The various projects were all exciting and fun for different reasons. The one common characteristic is the residue of continuing friendship and affection that remains as a result of the professional collaboration and sharing of ideas and labor during the work."

Friends who served on Council or on major committees of APS while Brookhart was in any of his several offices know how well his devotion and good judgement served the Society and its journals. As a neurophysiologist he is recognized for the progress the Journal of Neurophysiology made under his guidance and respected for the care and imagination he focused on the problem of control of skeletal muscle.

Selected Publications

1. Brookhart, J. M., E. H. Steffensen, and R. Gesell. Stellate ganglia and breathing. Am. J. Physiol. 115: 357-363, 1936.

2. Brookhart, J. M. Respiratory effects of localized faradic stimulation of the medulla oblongata. Am. J. Physiol. 129: 709-723, 1940.

3. Brookhart, J. M., F. L. Day, and S. W. Ranson. The abolition of mating behavior by hypothalamic lesions in guinea pigs. Endocrinology 28: 561-565, 1941.

4. Brookhart, J. M., and T. E. Boyd. Local differences in intrathoracic pressure and their relation to cardiac filling pressure in the dog. Am. J. Physiol. 148: 434-444, 1947.

5. Brookhart, J. M., G. Moruzzi, and R. S. Snider. Spike discharges of single units in the cerebellar cortex. J. Neurophysiol. 13: 465-486, 1950.

6. Zanchetti, A., and J. M. Brookhart. Measurement of electrical responsiveness of cortico-spinal efferents in cat and monkey. J. Neurophysiol. 18: 288-298, 1955.

7. Brookhart, J. M., A. Arduini, M. Mancia, and G. Moruzzi. Thalamocortical relations as revealed by induced slow potential changes. J. Neurophysiol. 21: 499-525, 1958.

8. Brookhart, J. M., and E. Fadiga. Potential fields initiated during monosynaptic activation of frog motor neurons. J. Physiol. Lond. 150: 633-655, 1960.

9. Kubota, K., and J. M. Brookhart. Recurrent facilitation of frog motor neurons. J. Neurophysiol. 26: 877-893, 1963.

10. Brookhart, J. M., S. Mori, and P. J. Reynolds. Postural reactions to two directions of displacement in dogs. Am. J. Physiol. 218: 719-725, 1970.

11. Brookhart, J. M., and R. E. Talbott. The postural response of normal dogs to sinusoidal displacement. J. Physiol. Lond. 243: 287-307, 1974.

12. Mirka, A., and J. M. Brookhart. Role of primary visual cortex in canine postural control. J. Neurophysiol. 46: 987-1003, 1981.


After Brookhart's retirement in 1983, he continued to be friend and benefactor of the Physiology Department at the Oregon Health Sciences University. John M. Brookhart died of causes related to age on December 30, 1995, in Portland, Oregon.