Pioneers of neuroanatomy: Golgi and Cajal

The 1906 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine was awarded to professors Camillo Golgi and Santiago Ramón y Cajal for their studies of structure of nervous system. By developing technique which enabled detailed staining of components of neurons, Golgi and Cajal revealed the complex beauty nervous system. This is designated by many as a beginning of modern neuroscience.

Camillo Golgi
(1843 –1926)

was an Italian physician and pathologist. At his time, the existing tissue staining techniques marked the entire tissue which left little information for an exceedingly dense tissue such as brain. To overcome this difficulty in studying nervous tissue, Golgi discovered a method which he called “black reaction”, fixing black sediment of silver chromate in the neural membrane by reacting silver nitratewithpotassium dichromate. This technique, which later received his name "Golgi stain", only stained a small number of neurons randomly in black color against the yellow background, making it possible to follow the details of an entire neuron.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal
( 1852 – 1934 )

was a Spanish pathologist and neuroscientist who further applied Golgi’s method. He had drawn microscopic morphology of different neural types, providing his observations as evidences for "neuron doctrine". Neuron doctrine described that the brain is made up of discrete units which were given the name “neuron” by his colleague Heinrich Wilhelm Gottfried von Waldeyer-Hartz. The individual neurons do not have direct contact with each other and they do not share the cell contents either, however, the information can propagate by nerve fibers from one to another through the intervals between them.

Dramatically, these two great neuroscientists did not reach a consensus even in the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony. Golgi believed that the nervous system is a single network, not made up of separated units, but Cajal supported the nervous system to be a contiguity rather than continuity. However, the debate between Golgi and Cajal did not affect that they became the first scientists who ever shared Nobel Prize in the history.