Rita Levi-Montalcini: the discovery of nerve growth factor and modern neurobiology.Trends Cell Biol. 2004 Jul; 14(7):395-9.TC
The remarkable accomplishments in developmental neurobiology within the past 60 years have depended on two things: (i) a succession of original histochemical and immunohistochemical methodologies for identifying pathways in the nervous system with increasing precision and sensitivity, and (ii) the discovery of growth factors for neurons. Growth factors are naturally occurring, essential biological mediators that promote cell growth, differentiation, survival and function in specific nerve cell populations. The discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF) by Rita Levi-Montalcini in the 1950s represents an important milestone in the processes that led to modern cell biology. NGF was the first growth factor identified, for its action on the morphological differentiation of neural-crest-derived nerve cells. Later, its effect on neuronal cells of the peripheral and central nervous systems, and on several non-neuronal cells was also determined. Thus, Levi-Montalcini's work on NGF represents, as acknowledged by the Nobel Prize Assembly in its press release of 13 October 1986, "a fascinating example of how a skilled observer can create a concept out of apparent chaos".