Golgi, Camillo 1843–1926)

Citation metadata

Date: 2007
Encyclopedia of World Scientists, Rev. ed.
Publisher: Facts On File
Series: Facts on File Science Library
Document Type: Biography
Pages: 2
Content Level: (Level 5)

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About this Person
Born: July 07, 1843 in Corteno, Italy
Died: January 21, 1926 in Pavia, Italy
Nationality: Italian
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Page 280

Golgi, Camillo (1843–1926)

Histologist, Cytologist

Although Camillo Golgi was awarded the Nobel Prize for his ground-breaking discoveries about the nervous system, his extensive contributions to science ranged across several disciplines. Early in his career he invented a method for staining nerve tissue, which made it possible to examine nerve cells in great detail under the microscope. Employing this method, he made a number of important discoveries, including the identification of a specialized type of nerve cell. This finding laid the foundation for modern neurology. He later discovered and described a small organ, a network of fibers and cavities, located within a cell's cytoplasm. Golgi also spent several years studying malaria. His findings provided for the diagnosis of the different types of malaria and, eventually, the treatment of the disease.

Golgi was born on July 7, 1843, in Corteno (later renamed Corteno Golgi in his honor), Brescia, Italy. His Page 281  |  Top of Articlefather, Alessandro, was a doctor. Later in his life Golgimarried Donna Lina Aletti, and the couple adopted Golgi's nephew, Aldo Perroncito.

Golgi received his medical degree from the University of Pavia in 1865. While continuing to work at the university, he joined the Ospedale di San Matteo in Pavia, where he developed an interest in the field of histology. In 1868 Golgi became an assistant in the Psychiatric Clinic of Cesare Lombrose. Although his tenure there was brief, Lombrose kindled in Golgi a lifelong interest in the workings of the central nervous system.

In 1871 Golgi left the Ospedale di San Matteo to become the chief resident physician at a home for incurable patients in Abbiategrasso. After setting up a makeshift laboratory in the home's kitchen, Golgi made his first important discovery in 1873, with little more than his microscope and assorted kitchen utensils. He developed a staining method, treating thinly sliced nerve tissue with silver nitrate, that made possible the first real examination of nerve tissue; previously nerve tissue had appeared to be an impenetrable knot of neurons when viewed under a microscope. Golgi's technique enabled observers to differentiate clearly the features of the nerves. While still at Abbiategrasso Golgi began to scrutinize nerve tissue samples treated with his stain. In 1874 he identified a type of nerve cell, later named the Golgi body, that had many short, branching dendrites connecting it to other nerve cells. His discovery was profound. SANTIAGO RAMÓN Y CAJAL later established the nerve cell as the basic structural unit of the nervous system. Much of modern neurology is built upon this premise.

Golgi accepted a position as a lecturer in histology at the University of Pavia in 1875. After a brief stint as chair of the anatomy department at the University of Siena in 1879, Golgi returned to Pavia as the chair of general pathology in 1880. Between 1885 and 1893 he conducted his influential research on malaria. Building upon the work of CHARLES-LOUIS-ALPHONSE LAVERAN, who discovered the disease-causing parasite Plasmodium in 1880, Golgi found that the two types of malarial fevers—tertian (occurring every other day) and quartan (occurring every third day)—were caused by different species of Plasmodium. He also correlated stages of the malarial fever with the parasite dividing in the bloodstream. These discoveries, along with his observation that quinine helped treat the disease, provided a sound basis for diagnosing and treating malaria.

In 1898 Golgi used his staining method to make an essential cytological discovery. He noted a hitherto unobserved organelle within the nerve cell's cytoplasm, the cellular substance between the membrane and the nucleus. This internal reticular apparatus, now known as the Golgi apparatus, appeared to be bundles of stacked membranes. It was not until recent advances in electron microscopy that scientists ascertained that the Golgi apparatus is involved in the synthesis and secretion of proteins.

Golgi remained in Pavia until his death in 1926. He served in the Royal Senate in 1900, and later in the Superior Council of Public Instruction and Sanitation. He was appointed president of the faculty of medicine at the University of Pavia. His numerous awards included the 1906 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine (which he shared with Cajal) for his work on the central nervous system. His discoveries are considered central to the development of the modern science of neurology.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|CX4065100348