Reticulospinal neurons in anamniotic vertebrates: a celebration of Alberto Stefanelli's contributions to comparative neuroscience. Academic Article uri icon


  • Over the past 76 years Alberto Stefanelli has successfully used a comparative approach to study the nervous system. His main research focus during that time has been on identifiable reticulospinal neurons including Müller and Mauthner neurons found in anamniotic vertebrates. Born in Venice, Italy in 1908, Professor Stefanelli pursued most of his academic career at the University of Rome, where he retired as Chair of Comparative Anatomy in 1978. His seminal work on the constancy in number and position of giant identifiable reticulospinal neurons in the brains of larval and adult lampreys, and his assertion that only a subset of these neurons were Müller cells, provided the framework in which subsequent authors have refined our understanding of the cellular anatomy, axonal projections, physiology, and function of Müller cells in the control of movement. Stefanelli has also provided the most comprehensive study to date of the Mauthner cell and its axon cap. His description of the differences in axon cap structure among many fishes and amphibians and his use of the "morpho-ecological" approach to determine Mauthner cell function has provided the basis for future studies on the neuronal basis of behavior and its evolution. As Professor Stefanelli approaches his 100th birthday, we celebrate his scientific contributions to comparative neuroscience with a biographical sketch of his life, an overview of his scientific accomplishments, and our view of how his comparative studies continue to contribute to our understanding of the nervous system.

publication date

  • October 19, 2007