line_gbg70.gif (2214 bytes)

Infectious Diseases
Medicine and Health
line_gbg70.gif (2214 bytes)


Camillo Golgi (1843-1926) is widely regarded as one of the founders of modern neuroscience.

He was born in Corteno, Italy, on July 7, 1843, the third son of the physician Alessandro Golgi, who had a rural practice in Corteno, a mountainous village in the province of Brescia, in the Alps that separate Lombardy from Switzerland. His hometown was later re-named Corteno-Golgi in his honor.

In 1860, Golgi entered the University of Pavia where his father had also attended, and he received his M.D. in 1865. The university dated from the early middle ages; its medicai faculty had known times of decline as well of scientifìc prosperity, such as in the times of Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729-1799) and Antonio Scarpa (1752-1832), a pupil of Giovanni Batista Morgagni ( 1682-1777). During Golgi's student years there was an atmosphere of change, created jointly by the scientifìc climate of materialistic positivism and the politicai climate of the newly established Italian state, including Lombardy which until 1859 had been under Austrian rule.

After graduation, Golgi worked briefly in a psychiatric clinic, but eventually decided to pursue a career in histological research. Golgi's earliest research involved the study of neurons, or nerve cells. Neurons present a number of problems for researchers that other cells do not. While most cells are compact and have a relatively fixed shape, neurons are commonly very long and thin with structures that are difficult to see clearly. In the 1860s, techniques used to stain and study non-nerve cells were well developed, but they were largely useless with neurons. As a result, a great deal of uncertainty surrounded the structure and function of neurons and neuron networks.

Like many neuroscientists Golgi had a flirtation with psychiatry, under the guidance of Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909). The purpose was to explain mental disease through experimental, non-meta-physical approaches. In 1865 Golgi defended a doctoral dissertation on the subject but two years later he spent more and more time on histo-logical studies of the nervous system. An important factor in this change, apart from dissatisfaction with Lombroso's broad generalisa-tions.was the influence of his young, brilliant and charming colleague Giulio Bizzozero (1846-1901), who had been appointed to the chair of pathology at the age of 26. His first work was on glial cells, found to con-sist of cells rather than of an amor-phous substance. Ali this time Golgi had been living mostly at his father's expense; in 1872 he gave in to pater-nal pressures to find a secure and well-paid position by accepting the post of Chief Physician at an institu-tion for chronic patients at Abbiate-grasso, the 'Pie Case degli Incurabili'. Nevertheless.he did his best to continue with histological studies of the brain.

Financial difficulties forced him in 1872 to accept a position as chief medical officer at the Hospital for the Chronically Ill in Abbiategrasso, Italy. No research facilities were available at that forlorn asylum. There, however, he was able to continue his studies in the kitchen of his private and apartment (or converting an unused kitchen into a laboratory?).

After systematic experiments, in 1873 Golgi discovered the 'reazione nera' (black reaction), a revolutionary method for studying the structure of the nervous system.that would gain him immortalìty. The method consisted of immersing specimens in Silver nitrate after fixation with potassium dichromate. It allowed visualisation of nerve cells and their ramifications in unprecedented detail. The neurons turned black and stood out clearly from surrounding tissue. Once Golgi's technique was used in other countries (he published almost exclusively in Italian) it stirred a flurry of new hypotheses about the anatomical organisation and eventually the function of the nervous system. To this day, the Golgi stain is widely used.

Golgi perfected his technique so that the addition of just the right amount of dye for just the right period of time would highlight one or another part of the neuron, a single complete neuron, or a group of neurons. Golgi's new technique resolved some questions about the nervous system, but not all. He was able, for example, to confirm the view of Wilhelm von Waldeyer-Hartz that neurons are separated by narrow gaps, synapses, and are not physically connected to each other. He was not able to completely explain, however, the complex, overlapping network of dendrites.

By 1875, Golgi had earned sufficient fame to receive an appointment as lecturer in histology at the University of Pavia in 1876. Around the same time, he also married Lina Aletti. Four years later, he was appointed Professor of Anatomy at the University of Siena, but he stayed only a year there before returning to Pavia as Professor of Histology.

A typical rosette-shape of the malarian parasite on the top, among red blood cells. Photograph of an original Golgi preparation preserved at the Museum for the History of the University of Pavia.

Between 1885 and 1893, Golgi was also involved in research on malaria. He made one especially interesting discovery in this field, namely that all the malarial parasites in an organism reproduce at the same time, a time that corresponds to the recurrence of fever. He found that the two types of intermittent malarial fevers (tertian, occurring every other day, and quartan, occurring every third day) are caused by different species of the protozoan parasite Plasmodium. He must be credited for having determined the three forms of the parasite and the three types of fever. He made one especially interesting discovery in this field; namely, that all the malarial parasites in an organism reproduce at the same time, a time that corresponds to the recurrence of fever. Golgi showed how the fever attacks coincide with the release into the bloodstream of a new generation of the parasites. He also established a method of treatment.

After prolonged studies he found a way of photographing the most characteristic phases in 1890. In 1892, he wrote "Azione della chinina sui parasite malarici e sui corrispondente accessi febbrili" in Gazz. med. Pavia, 1: 34, 79, 106.

While studying the brain of a barn owl in 1896, Golgi made a second important discovery. He found previously undetected bodies near the nuclear membrane. The function of these basic structures in the cell, now known as "Golgi apparatus", or "Golgi bodies", is still not understood, but for every student of medicine or biology, He discovered the apparatus in 1898 and, as a result, is among the most widely cited biologist in scientific literature. But this was only one of Golgi's many contributions to scientific research. He also devised a system for the classification of neurons on the basis of axonal distribution, identified a type of cell in the cerebellum, and described the malarial cycle in the human.

His discoveries were rich with therapeutic implications, and his remarkable achievements earned him a Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1906, sharing it with Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934).. Most books of biology or medicine point out that Golgi is one of the giants of 19th Century scientific endeavor, but he continues to remain a relatively unknown figure in the history of neuroscience and cell biology.

In addition to his scientific work, Golgi was active in Italian politics. He was elected a Senator in 1900 and served in a number of administrative posts at Pavia.

Golgi died in Pavia on January 21, 1926.

I contributi sulla malaria

Nell'anno 1882 il batteriologo Robert Koch scopriva il bacillo della tubercolosi e due anni dopo il vibrione del colera. Negli anni che vanno dal 1881 al 1884 il francese Charles Louis Alphonse Laverann, professore di medicina militare a Val de Grace, pubblicò i risultati delle sue ricerche sui soldati malarici in Algeria, informando la comunità scientifica di aver trovato un nuovo parassita nel sangue umano che denominò Oscillaria malariae. Nel 1885 due studiosi italiani, Ettore Marchiafava e Angelo Celli, entrambi professori all'Università di Roma, confermarono l'esistenza dell'organismo parassitario descritto dal Laveran, che denominarono Plasmodium malariae. Tra il 1887 e il 1889 Golgi scoprì il ciclo evolutivo del parassita che nella febbre terzana si riproduce in 48 ore e nella febbre quartana in 72 ore (ciclo di Golgi), individuando due diversi tipi di sviluppo. Dal punto di vista clinico il contributo degli studi di Golgi fu determinante poichè col semplice esame del sangue si diagnosticava la specie di parassita e somministrando il chinino qualche ora prima dell'accesso febbrile si evitava la riproduzione del plasmodio, estinguendone l'infenzione.


  • Image -

Main Menuu

This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran

Created: Saturday, January 09, 2010; Last Updated: Sunday, December 16, 2012
Copyright © 1998, USA