Biography of Luigi Luciani
Luigi Lucianigrew up during a period of political turmoil when Italy was struggling toward unification. He was the son of Serafino Luciani and Aurora Vecchi, and a nephew of Candido Augusto Vecchi (1813-1869), who was a well-known writer and long-time friend and biographer of Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882).
For financial reasons Luciani’s early schooling was undertaken mostly at home. He graduated from the Gymnasium in his native town of Ascoli Piceno in 1860, having impressed his Jesuit teachers with his intelligence and industry. He then spent two years pursuing politics and statesmanship, literature and philosophy, before he entered the study of medicine at the University of Bologna in 1862. For health reasons, Luciani in 1864 transferred to the University of Naples, where he was an assistant to Francesco Magni (1828-1888) at the eye clinic. However, a cholera epidemic in Naples the next year forced him to return to Bologna, where he completed medical school with distinction in 1868. Following his graduation he remained at the university to work in the physiology laboratory directed by Luigi Vella (1825-1886) from 1869 to 1871.
One of the most important period in Luciani’s life as a scientist was from March 1872 to November 1873, which he spent at the physiological institute in Leipzig directed by Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig (1816-1895). Already in 1871, before going to Ludwig’s laboratory, Luciani had made a study of the activity of the cardiac diastole. Now he took up the work of the German physiologist Hermann Friedrich Stannius (1803-1883) and carried out experimental research on the genesis of the automatic activity of the heart.
In 1873, using an isolated frog heart preparation with ligatures around the atria, Luciani was the first to demonstrate cardiac group beating, which he named periodic rhythm. For this purpose he used a small mercury manometer to record the oscillations of the internal pressure of the frog ventricle. He attributed this to increased resistance to impulse propagation between the atria and the ventricle.
Karel Frederik Wenckebach (1864-1940), in his 1899 landmark report of group beating in a patient in whom he also used pulse tracings, credited Luciani with this discovery. Wenckebach referred to the phenomena as "Luciani periods." Luciani traced the three distinct, characteristic phenomena (access, periodic rhythm, and crisis), which can be interpreted as three different phases of cardiac activity prior to its exhaustion. While in Leipzig, Luciani helped found a Physiology Society that met every Saturday evening to discuss their work and present the findings of the most recent and important publications.
Summing up his experience in Leipzig, Luciani wrote: “This stay in Germany is the most important period of my life as a scientist; it has left in me deep and lasting impressions. In a feeling of gratitude and justice which I shall harbour forever, I recognize Ludwig as my real teacher.”
After leaving Leipzig, Luciani taught general pathology as Privatdozent at Bologna from 1873 to 1874, continuing his work in experimental physiology. From 1875 to 1880 he was Extraordinarius in the same field at the University of Parma, and then became Ordinarius of Physiology at the Universities of Sienna (1880 to 1882), Florence (1882 to 1893), and Rome (1893 to 1917). Both in Siena and Florence Luciani won his professorships at through concours. In Florence he succeeded the German physiologist Moritz Schiff (1823-1896), in Rome Jacob Moleschott (1822-1893).
Luciani is also remembered for his research on the physiology of the cerebellum, published in 1891. Much of this was done in collaboration with his friend Augusto Tamburini (1848-1919), who provided the opportunity for him to work at the insane asylum in near-by Reggio, and G. Seppili. Through skilful vivisection, Luciani succeeded in experimentally removing the cerebellum in the dog and the monkey, thereby making a fundamental contribution to the development of knowledge of the nervous system. He was able to keep decerbellated dogs and monkeys alive for as much as one year. This work led to his interest in cerebral localizations and functions.
Luciani did extensive research on the physiology of fasting, in which he determined the various changes that, in man, the great organic functions undergo. At the time, there were professional exhibition fasters in Europe, among them Succi, Merlatti and Jacques. The latter fasted for 50 days in London in 1890. In 1889 Luciani carefully studied a 30 days fast by Succi.
In 1895 the Accademia dei Lincei received him as socio nazionale, and he was elected rector of the University of Rome. From 1905 until he died from a chronic genito-urinary disease Luciani was also a Senator of the Kingdom. At the time of his death he was professor emeritus.
- ”The work to which I dedicated my entire life has been a clean continuous fulfilment of my interest. I have always worked because work itself has given me the greatest pleasure in my life. All my efforts to overcome the serious difficulties that I have encountered in life have not been for me an exercise of virtue but a necessary condition to enjoy the final result. The thought of this psychic pleasure made me insensitive to the pain of the effort ... I do not deserve any credit, I only followed my basic instincts.”
Statement at a celebration on May 3, 1900, to honour his 25 years as a professor.