Camillo Golgi: biography of this revolutionary Italian cytologist

The Italian physiologist Camillo Golgi (1843-1926) is recognized as one of the fathers of cell biology. He is particularly known for the development of a technique that revolutionized modern science: the silver staining technique or the Golgi technique. Not only that, but there are different cell tissues that still bear his name to this day.

In this article we will see a brief biography of Camillo Golgi and we will review some of the most important characteristics of his life and scientific legacy.

    Biography of Camillo Golgi: life of a pioneer of cytology

    Camillo Golgi was born on July 7, 1843 in the town of Corteno, now Brescia, Italy. In 1865 he obtained a medical degree from the University of Padua and began to practice in the psychiatric and criminological field. However, his interest quickly shifted to histology (The discipline that studies the structure, development and functions of organic tissues).

    More precisely, while working in the laboratory of experimental pathology in the hands of professor of histology Giulio Bizzozero, Golgi took a significant interest in the development of experimental and research techniques in the same discipline.

    Later while working as a physicist in a research residence for people with chronic disorders (In the laboratory of the Hospital of Chronicity III, in Abbiategrasso, Italy), Golgi developed a method which has been decisive for the advancement of science in terms of knowledge of our cellular composition.

    He also taught at the University of Turin and the University of Siena and eventually joined the University of Pavia as a professor of histology. At the same university, he was appointed coordinator of the department of medicine and later rector.

    Camillo Golgi is recognized as one of the most important physicists and biologists for the development of modern science, especially for the neurosciences of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

      The Golgi method and the neural network

      Between 1872 and 1875 Camillo Golgi worked as a physiologist in a residence for people with chronic neuronal disorders in Italy. Golgi developed a method which to this day is known precisely as the “golgi technique”.

      This is a basic histological procedure that usually involves combining different chemicals and then depositing them in the intracellular walls. More precisely, it is about produce a chemical reaction between potassium dichromate and silver nitrate, Which results in a chemical compound called silver chromate, also known as silver chromate, the formula is Ag2CrO4.

      Visually, it is a collection of red salts, without color or flavor, which reacts differently to different elements. Among other things, silver chrome is one of the compounds that allowed us to develop modern photographic printing.

      What Golgi discovered, and then Ramón and Cajal perfected, is that it was possible staining of cell tissue with silver chromateAnd in doing so, the parts that make up these tissues could be clearly visible to the human eye.

      This is how it was first possible to take and print photographs of our cells. Specifically, Golgi discovered a type of cell, now known as a “Golgi cell,” which has different extensions (dendrites) that are used to connect with other cells.

      Staining applied to neurons

      After going through different processes of perfecting the technique, Golgi and Ramón y Cajal applied the silver staining technique to visualize the composition of neurons. Thus, they discovered that neurons do not exist in isolation and are not connected by continuity, but by contiguity, which means that their connections occur directly through different axons that communicate each neural body with the next.

      They described it as some kind of mesh or neural network and were the first to take sharp impressions of this network. In addition, they argued that the basic structure of the nervous system is precisely neurons, which was revolutionary for neuroscientific studies of the time, and that is an essential element in the development of contemporary neuroscience.

      Recognition and scientific heritage

      The silver staining technique applied to the study of neurons won Golgi and Ramón i Cajal the Nobel Prize for Physiology in 1906. In addition to this prize, in 1913 Golgi became a member of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences of the Netherlands and upon his retirement he was professor emeritus at the University of Pavia.

      On the other hand, one of the most popular and representative works of Golgi’s legacy is the note entitled “On the structure of the gray matter of the brain”, published by the Italian medical journal in 1873. In the Following years, Golgi continued to publish various articles with images of cellular networks. the same he is credited with the discovery of the sensory bodies of the tendons, Which are now known as the “Golgi tendon organs”.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Encyclopedia Britànica. Camillo Golgi, Italian physician and cytologist. Accessed June 13, 2018.Available at
      • Torres-Fernández, O. (2006). Golgi silver impregnation technique. Commemoration of the centenary of the Nobel Prize for Medicine (1906) shared by Camilo Golgi and Santiago Ramón i Cajal. Biomedical, 26: 498-508.

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