From the "hungry acid" to pepsinogen: a journey through time in quest for the stomach's secretion

Authors Antonis A. Kousoulis, Gregory Tsoucalas, Iakovos Armenis, Filio Marineli, Marianna Karamanou, George Androutsos.


The stomach's secretion has been a mystery for centuries. Even after the first indications of its function and role appeared, every formulated idea on the nature of the gastric liquid remained open to controversy. After the ancient Greek perceptions which identified acids as bitter-sour liquids, the physicians of the Iatrochemical School, under the influence of Paracelsus and the alchemists, were the first to point out the physiologic chemistry of secretion. Experiments on animals and humans during the 17th-18th centuries, which mainly included swallowing various substances and observing the process, enhanced knowledge, with Stevens and Spallanzani playing the leading part. Any existing objections ceased in 1823, when Prout clearly identified hydrochloric acid as the acid agent of the stomach. Later on, the role of pepsin and pepsinogen was also judged to be important in digestion. In addition, the tremendous contribution of French scientists, experienced in the science of nutrition, must not be underestimated. It took centuries of research, and the involvement of many notable figures from many nations and countries, to form modern concepts of gastric secretion.

Keywords stomach, hydrochloric acid, William Prout, Paracelsus, Lazzaro Spallanzani
Ann Gastroenterol 2012; 25 (2): 119-122

History in Gastroenterology