CROWN - Croatian World Network -
Kresimir Krnjevic distinguished Croatian neuroscientist celebrates 90 years in 2017
By Prof.Dr. Ante Padjen
Published on 12/20/2017
Eugene Garland of ISI and Current Contents named Dr. Krešimir Krnjević as one of the 1,000 most cited contemporary scientists and named three of his papers "citation classics." He is Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada since 1975., as well as Honorary Member of the Croatian Pharmacological Association (1983), Honorary President and Member of the Advisory Board of the Croatian Institute of Brain Research (since 1991), Corresponding Member of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences (1992) , etc. He was also president of the International Croatian Initiative (1992-1998). We provided an article written by Professor Ante Padjen, of the McGill University, Canada, which has been published in 2017 by Gaudeamus, the journal of AMCA Toronto.

Honorary President of Almae Matris Croaticae Alumni (AMCA), Quebec, Canada, 1990-present
Happy 90th birthday to Professor Krešimir Krnjević!

KrešŒimir Krnjevicć, on his 90th birthday

Written by Dr. Ante Padjen

On 7 September 2017, KrešŒimir Krnjević, Honorary President of AMCA Quebec, turned 90. This very brief summary of Krnjević'€™s achievements should remind us about his special place not only in the Canadian-Croatian community, but in world neuroscience as well.

KrešŒimir €”KrešŒo (later in life, Kris and KK)€” was born on September 7, 1927, in Zagreb, in the family of Dr. Juraj Krnjević, then Secretary of the Croatian Peasant Party, and Nada Hiršl. The political situation in Yugoslavia very much influenced his early years and the next two decades of his peripatetic lifestyle. The family was forced into exile in 1930 and, until the establishment of Croatian Banovina in 1939, lived in Switzerland where KrešŒo completed junior high school in French. With the outbreak of WWII, Krnjević's father had to leave the country, in 1941, this time as part of the Croatian contingent of the Yugoslav government in London, never to return to his beloved homeland. His children were sent to the safety of South Africa, where KrešŒo completed high school in English.

As a child KrešŒo wanted to become an engineer; later on, his interests extended to psychology, architecture, and medicine. In 1944, he entered one of the most distinguished medical schools in Great Britain - €”the University of Edinburgh. His interest in engineering, technology, and exact quantitative measurement never left the future neuroscientist and provided him with a great deal of insight and tools in solving biological problems. Upon completion of his medical studies in 1949, KrešŒo decided to embark on research.

KrešŒo completed his PhD in 1954. He later collaborated with John C. Eccles, who was a dominant world figure in neurophysiology as well as a Nobel prize winner in 1963.

In 1964 Krešo started teaching at McGill University as a Visiting Professor. Soon he was appointed Director of Research in the Anesthesia Department and later Chairman of the Physiology Department.

In over 50 years of brain research and more than 300 publications, KrešŒo’s research achievements included study of the peripheral nervous system, neuromuscular junction, synaptic mechanisms and neurotransmitters, mechanisms of anesthesia, hypoxia, the role of divalent ions, as well as pharmacology and the physiology of the hippocampus, and other subjects—most of them pioneering, and with far-reaching consequences.

In 1981, Eugene Garland of ISI and Current Contents named Kresšo as one of the 1,000 most cited contemporary scientists and named three of his papers "citation classics." These pioneering achievements were marked by numerous professional and public awards and acknowledgements, the most significant being his appointment as Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (1975), Alexander Forbes Lecturer Marine Biology Labs, Woods Hole, Massachusetts (1978), President of the Canadian Physiological Society (1979), Council Member, International Union of Physiological Sciences (IUPS) (1983-1993), Gairdner International Award (1984), Officer of the Order of Canada (1987), Jasper Lecturer Canadian Association for Neuroscience (1989), Wilder Penfield Prize, Government of Quebec (1997), Kershman Lecturer, Eastern EEG Association (1998), and many others.

Over the course of his life, Krešo remained attached to his Croatian roots. Despite his brief time in Croatia, he has eloquent command of the Croatian language, and has been a participant in Croatian neuroscience as lecturer and member of societies: Honorary Member of the Croatian Pharmacological Association (1983), Honorary President and Member of the Advisory Board of the Croatian Institute of Brain Research (1991- ), Corresponding Member of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences (1992), Spiridon Brusina Prize, and the Croatian Natural Science Association (2001). In Canada, Krešo accepted his appointment as Honorary President of Almae Matris Croaticae Alumni, Quebec (1990-present). He was also president of the International Croatian Initiative (1992-1998).

Those interested in knowing more about Krešimir Krnjević can read his autobiographical note prepared for the Society of Neuroscience: [PDF].

Published in Gaudeamus by

Dr Ante L. Padjen, MD, DSc (Zagreb) is a professor of pharmacology, therapeutics, and neuroscience at McGill University, since 1976, and founding president of AMCA Quebec (1990). He was the first graduate student of Dr Mirjana Randic after she returned from a three-year postdoctoral fellowship with Dr Krnjević. As a neighbour on the 12th floor of the McIntyre Building he has the particular privilege of conversing with Dr Krnjević about neuroscience, music, art, literature €”and Croatia.

Many thanks to Professor Padjen for his kind permission to reproduce his article for the readers of the CROWN.

An interview with professor Krešimir Krnjević in French:

Krešimir Krnjević
autobiographical sketch

Present and Previous Positions
  • 2001 Emeritus Professor of Physiology, McGill University, Canada
  • 1978 - 2001 Joseph Morley Drake Professor of Physiology, McGill University
  • 1978 - 1987 Chairman, Department of Physiology, McGill University
  • 1965 - 1999 Director, Anaesthesia Research Department, McGill University
  • 1964 - 1965 Visiting Prof., Physiology Department, McGill University, MontrĂŠal
  • 1959 - 1964 Principal, then Senior Principal Scientific Officer, Babraham Institute, Cambridge, UK
  • 1956 - 1958 Postdoctoral fellow Australian National University, Australia
  • 1954 - 1956 Postdoctoral fellow University of Washington, USA

Fields of Scholarship
  • Identification of main neurotransmitters in the mammalian brain
  • Identification of transmitter functions of some amino acids – especially glutamate for excitation and GABA for inhibition
  • Demonstration that muscarinic excitation exerted by acetylcholine, liberated in the cortex by ascending cholinergic fibres from the basal forebrain

Honours and Awards
  • 2012 Diamond Jubilee Medal
  • 2001 Spiridion Brusina Prize, Croatian Natural Science Association
  • 1998 Kershman Lecturer, Eastern EEG Association
  • 1997 Wilder Penfield Prize, Government of QuĂŠbec
  • 1992 Corresponding Member Croatian Academy of Arts & Sciences
  • 1990 Hon. President Almae Matris Croaticae Alumni, QuĂŠbec
  • 1989 Jasper Lecturer Canadian Association for Neuroscience
  • 1987 Officer of the Order of Canada
  • 1984 Gairdner International Award
  • 1983 Honorar Member Croatian Pharmacological Association
  • 1983 - 1993 Council Member International Union Physiol. Sciences (IUPS)
  • 1978 Alexander Forbes Lecturer Marine Biology Labs, Woods Hole, Mass.
  • 1975 Fellow Royal Society of Canada
  • 1952 - 1954 Beit Memorial Fellow

The Past Is a Foreign Country

For me, this is both metaphorically and literally true: though I was born in Croatia, most of my life I have resided elsewhere. Albeit far from unique - numerous thousands of Europeans of the pre - World War II generations were uprooted my situation had its own special features, which governed the course of my life and scientific career. In a sense, I was a precursor. Most of the millions who were "€œdisplaced"€ during that disastrous first half- century moved after 1933 when the Nazis got into power in Germany. My first exile began earlier, in 1930, when, as an infant, I was smuggled out of Yugoslavia.

Dr. Juraj Krnjević, father of Professor Krešimir Krnjević

My father, Juraj, was a great patriot, who devoted his life to his Croatian people and the Croatian Peasant Party - founded by an inspiring leader, Stjepan Radic, whose teaching he never ceased to promote through many decades of exile. As a child, I saw my father as a stern and demanding figure; but later, he earned my unqualified love and respect for his outstanding qualities: a strong will, tempered by an open mind and unselfish integrity, and total lack of interest in money. My doting mother, Nada, was an unending source of love and tenderness. She had a sunny and affectionate nature, as well as boundless energy, only partly expended in skiing and mountain climbing in neighboring Savoie (including Mont-Blanc). From my parents, I inherited both energy and optimism, which have served me well throughout my life.

I was born in Zagreb on September 7, 1927. By 1930, after the assassination of Stjepan Radic ́ in the parliament in Belgrade and the advent of King Alexander'€™s dictatorship, some leaders of the now outlawed Croatian Peas- ant Party (including my father) left the country. They wanted to convince major European powers of the need to restore democracy in Yugoslavia. So he went to Geneva, the seat of the League of Nations (the prewar equivalent of the United Nations). At the age of 21-„2, I was taken by my aunts from Zagreb to the Italian border - €”then at RijekaĂ - across which I ran, unhin- dered by the border guards, to my mother, waiting for me on the other side. We lived in Geneva for the next 10 years, and there I had my first education, up to the end of primary school. At home my parents always talked to us in Croatian, but my sister Biserka (5 years older) and I grew up speaking French. This remained our standard language of communication, long after we’d left Geneva.

Even in Switzerland, life was far from easy for a political exile: with so many unemployed during those depression years, we were allowed to stay in Geneva on the condition that my father take up no gainful employment. But access to the lake or mountains was free. My parents were enthusiastic hik- ers. So every Sunday, we all walked 3 miles to the French border and then up the 4000-foot-high Mt. Saleve. As a child, I had mixed feelings about the obligatory Sunday hike, but I grew to love mountains. We led a very quiet life and my schooling was uneventful. Summers I spent at an inexpensive holiday camp, run by our Catholic parish; neither father nor mother went to church, but I attended the catechism classes every Saturday. The Swiss phase of my life, generally calm and happy, like that blessed country, ended just as the European war was about to start. Alarmed by the quickly dete- riorating European situation, in the summer of 1939 the Belgrade government reluctantly granted Croatia a near-autonomous status as the Croatian Banovina. We could now return to Zagreb. Having to leave Geneva and my friends was hard enough for me: far more upsetting was leaving my mother behind. My parents’ separation (and ultimate divorce) was the deepest psychological trauma of my childhood.

Our arrival in Zagreb, on September 1, was an astounding event. At the railway station, the returning exile was welcomed by thousands - €”an occasion for many bouquets, speeches, and ovations, all in amazing contrast to our very quiet life in Geneva. We also discovered a large family of numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins, all making us feel warmly welcome. But at school, the early weeks were stressful, my rudimentary spoken Croatian being of little help when trying to cope with a rich and complex grammar. Within a few months, however, my sister and I were settling in this new, privileged existence. Though we missed Geneva's lake and mountains, Croatia offered an admirable, largely unspoiled, long Adriatic coast and islands, perhaps the finest in Europe. Sometimes I wonder, how different would my life have been if we had remained there? Would I have become an engineer, my great- est wish at the time? More likely, we would not have survived the takeover of Croatia by the Ustashi (extreme nationalists) after the German invasion of April 1941. As a prominent politician, strongly favoring the Western Allies, my father (and his children) would be early targets for liquidation. As it was, a bomb thrown into our house by Ustashi in December 1940 blew up within a few feet of me. I was seriously shaken but physically unharmed.

Another page was turned as we again went into exile in April 1941. When the German army invaded the country, my father agreed to be the Croatian vice-premier in the new Yugoslav government, getting ready to leave for Greece. A long and hazardous drive took us to Sarajevo (where I first experienced aerial bombing by the much feared Stukas); then over the mountains of Bosnia and Hercegovina to Niksic in Montenegro. Niksic had an airfield from which we were to fly to Athens. Though we had to hug uncomfortably close to the Albanian mountains to avoid Italian fighters, our flight—in a bomber of the Yugoslav air force - should have been straightfor- ward; it was cut short when, needing to refuel, we crash landed at a British air base in Agrinion, in northern Greece. Our luck held: albeit shaken, we were unhurt; but the journey had to continue overland, very slowly, first to Patras and then Athens. After the intense cold and snow-covered mountains of Bosnia and Albania, we marveled at the warmth and the blossoming orange trees in the streets of still peaceful Athens - the Germans were yet to reach Greece. A few days later, a slow flight took us from the Pireus to Crete, Alexandria, and then Cairo, where the unwelcoming Egyptian authorities immediately sent us off by the night train to Port Said, in the British- controlled Canal Zone. Our stay there, for a week or so, was followed by a long train ride to Jerusalem, where the Yugoslav government-in-exile finally reconvened, in an old monastery on the road to Bethlehem. In spite of the war and other hazards in Palestine, there was much to enthrall a young boy. Visiting the Holy sights or floating in the Dead Sea; and later, back in Cairo, riding a camel and climbing the great pyramids (as one could in those days) seemed like a great adventure.

But then, Biserka and I had to part from our father. Only the most senior members of the government could be flown to England; so all the other Yugoslavs went to Suez, to board the Strathaird, about to sail for South Africa. After a pleasant 2-week journey, we reached Capetown, where boarding schools were found for Biserka and myself. Thus began my third "€œincarnation" (as it were), now in the English-speaking world. Thanks to rapid progress, I finished my accelerated high school education before the end of 1943: with a very mixed bag of knowledge - in history for example, where 17th-century Dutch Cape settlers floated above medieval Croatian kings and an even deeper layer featuring William Tell'€™s crossbow and apple. Apart from my introduction to English, that school'€™s most significant and lasting impact was in the realm of music, for which I must thank a wonderfully empathic teacher, Valerie Norman, whose infectious enthusiasm and inspir- ing approach to piano playing aroused a passion for music that has never flagged. Life in Capetown was an interlude of peace and comfort. White peo- ple were privileged in South Africa, especially in Cape Province, with its temperate climate, rugged mountains, and splendid beaches: they enjoyed a high standard of living based, of course, on a shameless exploitation of the black majority. The few who thought about it seriously knew this could not go on forever. But most people accepted it as a gift from heaven. In any case, surely it would outlast their lives. . . .

Early in 1944, we left for England. Our mainly cargo boat (SS Sarpedon) reached Freetown (in Sierra Leone) without hindrance from the U-boats infesting the approaches to the Cape of Good Hope. We continued on to Liv- erpool, traveling very slowly but more safely in the middle of a large convoy Altogether, the voyage lasted 6 weeks. Nowadays, this would seem absurdly long and, surely, excessively boring. Not so. A surprisingly well-stocked library was available (where I first came across the Origin of the Species). Free to roam about the ship, I always had something to do or look at: the never-ending play of sun (or moon)-light on waves, the flying fish; at night the fluorescent spray and the ghostly sight of other ships gliding silently alongside. All males took turns at watching for enemy aircraft; and every- one attended the frequent lifeboat drills.
Arriving in a much battered Liverpool felt as if we were landing on another planet. The cold damp weather of early spring, the bomb-blasted ruins all about the landing area and Queen Street station, and the lean undernourished look of the local people could hardly present a greater contrast to the Land of Cockaigne we had left behind in Southern Africa. The train ride to London was interrupted several times by a vicious air raid, one of the last of the “conventional” bombardments. In London, we were issued gas masks, as well as coupons for food and clothing that were strictly rationed, and from then on, whenever I traveled anywhere in Britain, I had to report to the police at a backdoor entrance prominently labeled "Aliens, Firearms, and Dangerous Drugs."

As a child, I wanted to become an engineer. By this time, however, my interests had broadened: indeed, everything seemed exciting. But my father, remembering my long interest in engineering, had made arrangements to see people at a Cambridge college, Peterhouse. Not long after our arrival, we all went to Cambridge. It was agreed that Biserka - who had finished 1 year of university in Capetown—would go to Newnham, a college for women. Having no Latin - €”at that time an absolute requirement for admission to Cambridge - and being rather young (16), I was advised to learn some Latin and return the following year. To wait a whole year seemed to me a dreadful imposition. Instead, I opted for medical studies in Edinburgh, where the sepa- rate Scottish system had no Latin requirement for admission. After some addi- tional coaching in chemistry and physics during the summer, I passed the first MB exam in the autumn and began my medical studies in October 1944.

Though far from secure - €”those marvels of the latest German technology, the V1 and V2 bombs kept up round-the-clock suspense—life in London was amazingly rich in cultural events, in spite of wartime restrictions. That summer, I seldom missed any of the lunch-hour concerts at the National Gallery. There was plenty more chamber music at the Wigmore Hall. And, after the concerts, as soon as some paintings returned to 2-3 undamaged rooms at the National Gallery, visual arts came as another revelation. Because they were so few, one could get to know the pictures really well, undistracted by the thought of dozens more rooms to visit. My father had rented a house in Chelsea - during the war, plenty were available and inexpensive'so I had a base from which to explore London, to which I was to return regularly during vacations.

Life in Edinburgh was rather different. Getting away from the V1's and V2's was a relief, but there was a sobering dourness about the city. Long before the festivals ushered in a cultural renaissance, there was little in the way of music, modern art, or theater, and no cinemas were open on Sun- days. On the other hand, the town was always there, offering a wonderful variety of stone buildings and entrancing prospects. Throughout the 10 years that I spent in Edinburgh, I never tired of exploring the crooked streets below the Castle and the classically laid-out squares and crescents of the New Town. Edinburgh is an extraordinary architectural success—surely the loveliest city in Britain, and among the finest in Europe.

The first 2 years of our studies were mainly devoted to anatomy: espe- cially the systematic dissection of the human cadaver to which I was assigned, together with 4-€“5 other students. Our focus was sharpened by frequent "spot" exams: what sequence of many structures would be penetrated by a needle inserted at this or that point? We were kept on our toes also by the frequent appearance of the already venerable E. B. Jamieson - the grand old man of Edinburgh anatomy - who, wearing a little black cap, shuffled about the dissecting room, asking pointed questions. By contrast, physiology was much harder to grasp. Unlike anatomy, it seemed to lack firmly established facts. The physiology teachers failed to inspire much enthusiasm, and they had some difficulty in controlling a very unruly crowd of young students, only recently freed from school discipline.

The clinical subjects, and especially regular exposure to patients, soon had a sobering effect. Unlike any other, medical training offers an acceler- ated schooling in life and many of its problems, as well as an exceptional variety of highly regarded and monetarily well-rewarded employment. Though I worked quite seriously, much time went into exploring music, including moderately successful attempts at playing the piano. Mozart was a particular favorite. In view of Mozart's prodigious output, Sacheverell Sitwell (1936) had commented that no one could hope to hear even half the works listed in Koechel'€™s catalogue. This spurred me to listen to every (for me) new piece by Mozart, played mostly on the BBC'€™s Third Programme: before I left Edinburgh, I could boast of having crossed out over two-thirds of the 626 items in the catalogue.

I also greatly enjoyed weekend climbing trips, as a member of the University Mountaineering Club, to the Highlands and, less often, the Lake District - €”the rudiments of rock climbing I'd picked up during summer visits to my mother in Geneva (from my step-father, Francis Marullaz, a great alpinist, who had conquered at least once every 4000 meter peak in Europe). My studies proceeded satisfactorily to their conclusion in 1949, by which time I was just old enough to become a registered medical practitioner. In those less exacting days, there was no requirement for further hospital experience (internship). So I could have joined some practice or even gone off as a ship's doctor - as some of my colleagues did. When my closest friends enrolled in residency training, I was at first tempted to continue in a clinical career but then decided that I would concentrate on research.

Why did I make that choice? I enjoyed working with patients. That part of medicine very much appealed to me. What I did not like so much was the medical hierarchy, the deference to the established chiefs, having to con- form to certain patterns of behavior and accepting the power games involved in climbing up the professional ladder. By contrast, in research I could con- tribute to new knowledge as a member of a relatively small, but worldwide community of scholars. This was better suited to my temperament, as well as my situation: having been uprooted several times from several countries and cultures, I felt a greater natural affinity for a career where one'€™s performance counted more than one's provenance. Where could I train as a researcher? I went to the Physiology Department (in Edinburgh) and spoke to Philip Eggleton, the acting Head (to the Eggletons we owe the discovery of phosphocreatine, when both husband and wife were studying muscle metabolism in A. V. Hill'€™s laboratory at University College). As always, he was very helpful. Though he mentioned the limited number of academic jobs then available, he did not try to discourage me. When he asked what field of research I was interested in, I replied that studies of the brain, especially how to bridge the chasm between brain physiology and psychology, seemed of particular interest. He thought both fields were becoming ripe for serious moves in that direction. As it turned out, we were somewhat overly optimistic. That happened to be the year (1949) when Donald Hebb'€™s The Organization of Behavior was published (a book now much-cited); only several decades later did neurophysiologists begin to take a serious interest in cognitive processes and most psychologists see the relevance of synaptic events.

Before I could start my Ph.D. research, I had to complete 2 years of an Honors B.Sc. program. Apart from physiology lectures and labs, my other major topic was psychology, taught mainly (and rather effectively) by the head of the department, James Drever. This introduced me to such topics as motivation, learning, gestalt, and statistics that I hadn't thought about much before. It was a stimulating experience. For a lab project, David Whitteridge - the new Head of Physiology who had just come from Oxford - suggested that I try to record from vagal relay cells inthe cat'€™s nodose ganglion. He had spent much time recording afferent signals from the lungs and heart, as "€œunitary" responses in fine strands laboriously dissected from the vagus. Microelectrodes might be a useful alternative. With acid-sharpened sewing needles - €”insulated except at the tip—I did manage to record some single units from the nodose. Albeit feasible, this method was probably not much less trouble than the alternative, and as far as I know, was not widely adopted. Nevertheless, when written up, this project qualified me for a Goodsir Memorial Bursary.

For the continuation of this text, see [PDF], from Society for Neuroscience.

Formated for CROWN by Darko Žubrinić
Distributed by . This message is intended for Croatian Associations/Institutions and their Friends in Croatia and in the World. The opinions/articles expressed on this list do not reflect personal opinions of the moderator. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, please delete or destroy all copies of this communication and please, let us know!