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J Neurosurg. 1995 Nov;83(5):933-7.

Luigi Rolando and his pioneering efforts to relate structure to function in the nervous system.

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Department of Neurosurgery, University of Naples, 2nd School of Medicine, Italy.


The fissure separating the motor from the sensory cortex and the substantia gelatinosa capping the posterior horn of the spinal cord are still known by the name of the Italian anatomist Rolando, Luigi Rolando was born in Turin, Italy, in 1773 and died in 1831. His life was not easy, the first of his problems being the death of his father when Rolando was still very young. Three people were to be influential in his life and career: Father Maffei, his maternal uncle who raised him; Dr. Cigna, the anatomy professor who discovered his talent; and Dr. Anformi, a general practitioner who introduced him to the practice of medicine and to the best circles of the city. Forced to leave Turin by the Napoleonic invasion of the country, Rolando first stopped in Florence, where he learned about anatomical dissection, drawing, and engraving and studied the appearance of nervous tissue under the microscope. Later he went to Sardinia where, although cut off from European cultural circles, he developed his major theories. Rolando pioneered the idea that brain functions could be differentiated and located in specific areas and discovered the fixed pattern of cerebral convolutions, highlighting motor and sensory gyri. He demonstrated the complexity of the central gray matter of the spinal cord, describing the "substantia gelatinosa," and he deduced that nervous structures are connected in a network of nervous fibers linked by electrical impulses. Rolando had to struggle for recognition, however, as the priority of his discoveries was challenged by the almost contemporaneous work of Gall and Spurzheim on cerebral localization and of Flourens on cerebellar function. Nevertheless, his efforts contributed greatly to the clarification of brain function. His observations on nervous anatomy have been especially accurate, as shown by the nomenclature "fissure of Rolando."

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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