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Golgi, Camillo

nerve cells studied silver

[gol jee] (1843–1926) Italian histologist: classified nerve cells and discovered synapses.

Golgi followed his father in pursuing a medical career, and studied at Pavia; he was later a physician in Pavia for 7 years and from 1875 taught there. He was interested in the use of organic dyes for histological staining (much used by and others) and in 1873 he made, through a spillage accident, his own major discovery: the use of silver compounds for staining. Using this method with nerve tissue he was able to see new details under the microscope, allowing him to classify nerve cells and to follow individual nerve cells (which appeared black under the microscope when treated with silver). His method showed that their fibres did not join but were separated by small gaps (synapses). In the 1880s he studied the asexual cycle of the malaria parasite (a protozoon) in the red blood cells and related its stages to the observed stages of the various forms of malaria. In 1898 he described a peculiar formation in the cytoplasm of many types of cell (the Golgi body), which has been much studied since, especially by electron microscopy; it appears to be a secretory apparatus, producing glycoproteins and other essential cell materials. Golgi shared a Nobel Prize in 1906.

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