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Giovanni Aldini: From Animal Electricity to Human Brain Stimulation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 December 2014

André Parent*
Affiliation:
Centre de Recherche Université Laval Robert-Giffard, Beauport, Québec, Canada
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Abstract

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Two hundred years ago, Giovanni Aldini published a highly influential book that reported experiments in which the principles of Luigi Galvani (animal electricity) and Alessandro Volta (bimetallic electricity) were used together for the first time. Aldini was born in Bologna in 1762 and graduated in physics at the University of his native town in 1782. As nephew and assistant of Galvani, he actively participated in a series of crucial experiments with frog's muscles that led to the idea that electricity was the long-sought vital force coursing from brain to muscles. Aldini became professor of experimental physics at the University of Bologna in 1798. He traveled extensively throughout Europe, spending much time defending the concept of his discreet uncle against the incessant attacks of Volta, who did not believe in animal electricity. Aldini used Volta's bimetallic pile to apply electric current to dismembered bodies of animals and humans; these spectacular galvanic reanimation experiments made a strong and enduring impression on his contemporaries. Aldini also treated patients with personality disorders and reported complete rehabilitation following transcranial administration of electric current. Aldini's work laid the ground for the development of various forms of electrotherapy that were heavily used later in the 19th century. Even today, deep brain stimulation, a procedure currently employed to relieve patients with motor or behavioral disorders, owes much to Aldini and galvanism. In recognition of his merits, Aldini was made a knight of the Iron Crown and a councillor of state at Milan, where he died in 1834.

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Copyright
Copyright © The Canadian Journal of Neurological 2004

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