Welcome back to Hearing International‘s continuing series honoring the Cochlear Explorers, those who first described cochlear anatomy and physiology that later were named after their explorers. Week X’s Cochlear Explorer is the Italian Antonio Scarpa (1797-1832), the master of the anatomists influencing many of those that followed him in the literature. Scarpa, one of the very first cochlear explorers, observed the vestibular ganglion, which now bears his name.
The vestibular nerve ganglion or “Scarpa’s Ganglion” is the ganglion of the vestibular nerve. Ganglia are clusters of nerve cells or a group of nerve cell bodies located in the peripheral nervous system. The vestibular ganglion contains cell bodies of the bipolar primary neurons whose peripheral processes make synaptic contact with the hair cells of the vestibular sensory end organs. Scarpa’s Ganglion is located in the internal auditory meatus and consists of bodies of the primary vestibular neurons separated into the superior and inferior group. The superior nerve innervates the cristae of the superior and lteral semicircular canals, the utricular macula and the anterosuperior part of the saccular macula. The inferior group innervates the crista of the posterior semicircular canal and most of the saccular macular. The central processes synapse in the vestibular nuclei in the brainstem. Microscopically Scarpa’s Ganglion is presented in the photo to the right in the area designated as SCG.
But Who IS Antonio Scarpa?
Scarpa was born in 1797 to an impoverished family in in the area of Livenza, Veneto, outside of Venice, Italy. An uncle, who was a member of the priesthood, gave him instruction until the age of 15, when he passed the entrance exam for the University of Padua (Padova). At Padua, Scarpa studied under Giovanni Battista Morgagni, considered the father of modern anatomical pathology and Marc Antonio Caldani, who studied the spinal cord intently and introduced electricity into physiology. Under Morgagni, he became a doctor of medicine in May 1770 and two years later, he became professor at the University of Modena. For a time he chose to travel, visiting Holland, France and England. Upon returning to Italy he became a professor of anatomy at the University of Pavia in 1783, on the strong recommendation of Emperor Joseph II. He remained in that post until 1804, when he stepped down to allow his student Santo Fattori to assume the chair. In May 1791, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for being the author of “some ingenious observations on the ganglions of the nerves, on the structure of the organs of hearing and smell, and other subjects of anatomy and Physiology”. In 1805, Napoleon was made King of Italy. As the story goes, when Napoleon chose to visit the University of Pavia, he inquired as to the whereabouts of Dr. Scarpa. He was informed that the doctor had been dismissed because of his political opinions and his refusal to take oaths, whereupon Napoleon restored Dr. Scarpa to his position as chair. In 1821, he was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
During his lifetime he became a rich man, acquiring a collection of valuable paintings and living a wealthy lifestyle. Although a confirmed bachelor, he fathered several sons out of wedlock whom he favored through nepotism. In his career, he earned a reputation for ruthlessness, destroying his enemies and taxing his favorites to their limits. During his time at Pavia, he was the good friend of Gaspare Corti, the father of Alfonso Corti. It is said that Scarpa was a such frequent visitor at the Corti home that he probably inspired young Alphonso Corti’s interests in the auditory anatomy.
Toward the end of his life, Antonio Scarpa suffered from a stone in his urinary system that caused an inflammation of the bladder, resulting in his death. He died in Pavia on 31 October 1832. After his death, his reputation was bitterly attacked, and even marble stones erected in his memory were defaced. After his death, his assistant Carlo Beolchin performed an autopsy which was documented in an extremely detailed report. As an incredible and questionable act of homage to the great scientist, the head of the anatomist was removed and exhibited in the Institute of Anatomy. The head is still exhibited at the Museo per la storia dell’Università di Pavia.
Next week meet the last of our Hearing International Cochlear Explorers: Irving Hardesty and the Tectorial Membrane.