Camillo Golgi Biography (1843-1926)


Golgi was born in Corteno, Italy, on July 7, 1843, the son of a physician. His home town was later renamed Corteno-Golgi in his honor. Golgi studied medicine at the University of Pavia, where he received his M.D. in 1865. After graduation, he worked briefly in a psychiatric clinic, but eventually decided topursue a career in histological research.

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 there, however, and he was able to continue his studies only by converting an unused kitchen into a laboratory. By 1875, Golgi had earned sufficient fame to receive an appointment as lecturer inhistology at the University of Pavia. Four years later he was appointed Professor of Anatomy at the University of Siena, but he stayed only a year therebefore returning to Pavia as Professor of Histology. There he married Donna Lina Aletti, the niece of one of his former professors.

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. Inthe 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 dealof uncertainty surrounded the structure and function of neurons and neuron networks.

In 1873, Golgi found that silver salts could be used to dye neurons. The neurons turned black and stood out clearly from surrounding tissue. 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 unable to completely explain, however,the complex, overlapping network of dendrites.

While studying the brain of a barn owl in 1896, Golgi made a second importantdiscovery. He found previously undetected bodies near the nuclear membrane.Those bodies, now known as Golgi bodies or Golgi complexes, seem to be involved in the manufacture of proteins and carbohydrates. For his research on the nervous system, Golgi was awarded a share of the 1906 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine.

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.

In addition to his scientific work, Golgi was active in Italian politics. Hewas elected a Senator in 1900 and served in a number of administrative postsat Pavia. He died in Pavia on January 21, 1926.

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