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Camillo Golgi: biography of this revolutionary Italian cytologist

Camillo Golgi: biography of this revolutionary Italian cytologist

November 27, 2021

The Italian physiologist Camillo Golgi (1843-1926) is recognized as one of the fathers of cell biology. Specifically, it is 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 cellular tissues that are still named after him.

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

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Biography of Camillo Golgi: life of a cytology pioneer

Camillo Golgi was born on July 7, 1843 in the city of Corteno, present province of Brescia, in Italy. In the year of 1865 he graduated from medical school at the University of Padua, and began exercising it in the psychiatric and criminological area. However, his interest soon moved towards histology (the discipline that studies the structure, development and functions of the tissues of organs).

Specifically while working in the laboratory of experimental pathology by the professor of histology Giulio Bizzozero, Golgi was interested in an important way in the development of experimentation and research techniques of the same discipline.

Subsequently, while working as a physicist in a research residence for people with chronic disorders (in the laboratory of the Hospital de Cronicidad III, in Abbiategrasso, Italy), Golgi developed a method that was decisive for the advancement of science in terms of knowing our cellular composition.

He also worked as a professor at the University of Torí and the University of Siena and finally he became a professor of histology at the University of Pavia. Within 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 nineteenth and early twentieth century.

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The Golgi method and the neural network

Between the years of 1872 and 1875, Camillo Golgi worked as a physiologist in a residence of people with chronic neuronal disorders in Italy. Golgi developed a method that until today is known precisely as the "golgi technique" .

It is a basic histological procedure that very broadly consists of combining different chemicals and then depositing them on the intracellular walls. More specifically it is about produce a chemical reaction between potassium bichromate and silver nitrate , which results in a chemical compound called silver chromate, also known as silver chromate, whose formula is Ag2CrO4.

In visual terms it is a set of red salts, without color or flavor, which has different reactions to contact with different elements. Among other things, silver chromate is one of the compounds that has allowed us to develop modern photographic printing.

What Golgi discovered, and then Ramón y Cajal perfected, was that it was possible dye the cell tissues using the silver chromate , and in doing so, the parts that make up those tissues could be clearly visible to human eyes.

This is how it was for the first time possible to take and print photographs of our cells. Specifically Golgi discovered a type of cell, which is now known as the "golgi cell", which has different extensions (dendrites) that serve to connect with other cells.

Staining applied to neurons

After going through different processes of improvement of the technique, Golgi and Ramón y Cajal applied the technique of silver staining for visualize the composition of neurons . Thus, they found that neurons did not exist in isolation and were not connected by continuity, but by contiguity, which means that their connections occur directly through different axons that communicate each neuronal body with the next.

They described this as a kind of mesh or neural network and were the first to take clear impressions of that network. In addition, they maintained that the basic structure of the nervous system is precisely the neurons, something that was revolutionary for the neuroscientific studies of the time, and that is an essential part of the development of contemporary neuroscience .

Recognition and scientific legacy

The technique of silver staining applied to the study of neurons earned Golgi and Ramón y Cajal the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1906. In addition to this award, in 1913 Golgi became a member of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences. Sciences of the Netherlands and to his retirement he was professor emeritus of the university of Pavia.

On the other hand, one of the most popular and representative works of the legacy of Golgi is the note entitled "In the structure of the gray matter of the brain", published by the Italian medical journal of 1873. In the following years Golgi continued publishing various articles with images of cellular networks. Likewise he is credited with having discovered the sensory bodies of the tendons , which are now known as the "tendinous golgi" organs.

Bibliographic references:

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

Randy Schekman (HHMI & UCB) 1: Secretory Pathway: How cells package & traffic proteins for export (November 2021).

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