Michael J. Caplan
In the minds of many students, the discipline of physiology is linked inextricably to images from its past. This prejudice is not surprising because many experiments from physiology's proud history, such as those of Pavlov on his dogs, have transcended mere scientific renown and entered the realm of popular culture. Some might believe that the science of physiology devotes itself exclusively to the study of whole animals and is therefore an antique relic in this era of molecular reductionism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Physiology is and always has been the study of the homeostatic mechanisms that allow an organism to persist despite the ever-changing pressures imposed by a hostile environment. These mechanisms can be appreciated at many different levels of resolution.
Certainly it would be difficult to understand how the body operates unless one appreciates the functions of its organs and the communication between these organs that allows them to influence one another's behaviors. It would also be difficult to understand how an organ performs its particular tasks unless one is familiar with the properties of its constituent cells and molecules.
The modern treatment of physiology that is presented in this textbook is as much about the interactions of molecules in cells as it is about the interactions of organs in organisms. It is necessary, therefore, at the outset to discuss the structure and characteristics of the cell. Our discussion focuses first on the architectural and dynamic features of a generic cell. We then examine how this generic cell can be adapted to serve in diverse physiological capacities. Through adaptations at the cellular level, organs acquire the machinery necessary to perform their individual metabolic tasks.