Otto Deiters, for whom the lateral vestibular nucleus and the supporting cells of the outer auditory hair cells were named, died in 1863 aged 29. He taught in the Bonn Anatomy Department, had an appointment in the University Clinic, and ran a small private practice. He published articles on the cell theory, the structure and development of muscle fibers, the inner ear, leukaemia, and scarlet fever. He was the second of five surviving children in an academic family whose private correspondence revealed him to be a young man with limited social skills and high ambitions to complete a deeply original study of the brainstem and spinal cord. However, first his father and then his younger brother died, leaving him and his older brother responsible for a suddenly impecunious family as he failed to gain academic promotion. Otto died of typhus two years after his younger brother's death, leaving his greatest scientific achievement to be published posthumously. He showed that most nerve cells have a single axon and several dendrites; he recognized the possibility that nerve cells might be functionally polarized and produced the first illustrations of synaptic inputs to dendrites from what he termed a second system of nerve fibers. J. Comp. Neurol. 521:1929–1953, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.