(b. Turin, Italy, 16 June 1773; d. Turin, 20 April 1831)
medicine anatomy physiology zoology.
After the death of his father Rolando was entrusted to the priest Antonio Maffei, a paternal uncle, who attended to his education. He enrolled at the Faculty of Medicine in Turin, where he showed particular interest in the anatomy courses of G. F. Cigna, who considered Rolando his most promising pupil. This bent, however, did not prevent him from also devoting time and studies to comparative anatomy and zoology. His thesis, an anatomical and physiological study of the lungs in various classes of animals, also dealt with pleuropulmonary ailments of tubercular origin.
In 1802 Rolando began to practice medicine, and his increasing fame led to his appointment, on 15 November 1804, as professor of practical medicine at Sassari University. On his way to Sardinia, Rolando remained in Florence for three years, becoming friends with Paolo Mascagni and Felice Fontana, continuing his studies of anatomy, and practicing anatomical drawing. In 1807 he assumed the chair assigned to him in Sassari where he was also given the post of chief physician. Rolando’s anatomico physiological studies from this period dealt mainly with the structure and function of the nervous system in man and animals, using the comparative method with which he had become familiar. In the meantime he also continued zoological research.
In 1814 Rolando accompanied the royal family on its return from Sardinia to Turin and became professor of anatomy at Turin University, in addition to his various posts in scientific and health organizations. Despite this combination of engagements, which considerably weakened his health, he published an exceptional number of articles and works on entomology, zoology, general physiology, and pathology. He died of cancer of the pylorus.
Rolando’s most important studies were devoted to the anatomical, physiological, and embryological examination of the brain. In particular, he examined the gray matter, which he considered to be different from that of the striate bodies; and he discovered the cerebral branches and fibrous processes, which he studied by means of serial sections. Contradicting existing opinions, Rolando asserted that in the first stages of development of the central nervous system of the embryo two vesicles appear, representing the medulla oblongata, from which the cerebral hemispheres are then developed; to the latter he attributed the intellectual faculties.
Experimental research on the cerebellum led him to consider, before Flourens—with whom he had an argument on the priority of the discovery—that this organ governs muscular movements. Rolando had observed that in animals in which lesions of this organ are induced, such movements progressively decrease until they disappear entirely, parallel with the extent and seriousness of the damage. Flourens then correctly restricted the functions of the cerebellum to the coordination of movement, but he refused to acknowledge that Rolando had preceded him along this course.
Rolando’s name is linked to the Rolandic fissure, the sulcus separating the frontal lobe from the parietal.
I. Original Works. Rolando’s principal writings include Anatomico-physiologica-comparativa disquisitio in respirationis organa (Turin, 1801); Phtiseos pulmonalis specimen theoretico-practicum (Turin, 1801); Observations anatomiques sur la structure du sphinx nerii et autres insectes (Sassari, 1805); Sulle cause da cui dipende la vita negli esseri organizzati (Florence, 1807); Saggio sopra la vera struttura del cervello dell’uomo e degli animali e sopra le funzioni del sistema nervoso (Sassari, 1809; 2nd ed., Turin, 1828, is the more important); Humani corporis fabricae ac functionum analysis adumbrata (Turin, 1817); Osservazioni sulla pleura e sul peritoneo (Turin, 1818); Anatomes physiologica (Turin, 1819); Cenni fisico-patologici sulle differenti specie d’eccitabilità e ’eccitamento sull’irritazione e sulle potenze eccitanti debilitanti e irritanti (Turin, 1821); Riflessioni e sperimenti tendenti allo scioglimento di alcune questioni riguardanti la respirazione e la calorificazione (Turin, 1821); Description d’un animal nouveau qui appartient à la classe des échinodermes (Turin, 1822); “Recherches anatomiques sur la moelle allongée,” in Atti dell’ Accademia delle scienze di Torino, 29 (1825), 1–78; and “Osservazioni sul cervelletto, Ibid., 163–188.
II. Secondary Literature. On Rolando’s life, see P. Capparoni, Profili bio-bibliografici di medici e naturalisti celebri italiani, II (Rome, 1928), 97–101, with portrait.