Laboratory History

Memoir: The Discovery of Adult Neurogenesis


The issue of postnatal and adult neurogenesis has been a controversial one since the early 1960s.  That started following our demonstration, using the autoradiographic technique, that proliferative cells of the rodent cerebellar external germinal layer and the cortical subependymal layer incorporate systemically administered radioactive thymidine, and that the tagged cells differentiate into identifiable small-caliber interneurons, what we have called microneurons.  The discovery of adult-generated dentate granule cells in the early 1960s also generated controversy and denial by some prominent developmental neurobiologists.  While there has been little open criticism of these findings, and of the subsequent supporting evidence that we and others have marshaled in the 1970s and 1980s, many in the scientific establishment chose to ignore our demonstrations.  Most textbooks did not refer to our research results; increasingly, we had trouble in publishing our results in peer-reviewed journals and eventually lost our research grants.  Then, in the 1990s, adult neurogenesis was “rediscovered.”  Some researchers graciously referred to our earlier work, others belittled it as of little merit, still others ignored it (and do it to this day), quoting others as the discoverers of the phenomenon.

I opted to refrain from entering this controversy until I was invited by Dr. Tatsunori Seki to write this memoir as the first chapter of the  book, “Neurogenesis in the Adult Brain,” to be published by Springer, which he edited with several other scientists.  I submitted this manuscript to Dr. Seki in January 2008, and he accepted it in February 2008, noting in his email: “It is one of the most valuable memoir[s] in the history of neuroscience and every researcher on adult neurogenesis should read it.”  The “absolute deadline” for the manuscript  submission was April 30, 2008.  The years 2008, 2009, and 2010 passed and this chapter languished unread somewhere for reasons unknown to me. Finally, I received the page proof from Springer in March of this year, with a copyright agreement that I signed with the proviso that I can put the 2008 manuscript on our new website.  We obtained permission to do that by adding the following statement: “The original publication is available at”

We are aware of the difficulties that many researchers have in publishing their results in traditional journals and of their increasing use of new forums with greater transparency in the reviewing process.  We put this manuscript on our website, unchanged in its early 2008 format (with the figure file incorporated into the text file by Shirley A. Bayer), to bring to the attention of the scientific community the need for reforming the current journal and book publishing practices.

Joseph Altman
April 19, 2011


In 2011, I was honored to receive the Prince of Asturias Award from the Crown Prince of Spain. In 2012, the Emperor of Japan gave me the International Prize for Biology from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Both of these awards were for my discovery of adult neurogenesis. As part of the festivities associated with these awards, I gave  brief presentations outlining the main findings of that work. Below is the presentation of my talks at symposia associated with these awards.