Luigi Luciani

Luigi Luciani (1840 – 1919)

Luigi Luciani (1840 – 1919) was an Italian neuroscientist.

Luciani was an important contributor to the basic understanding of cardiac automacity, cerebellar function, and the fasting response

In 1873, whilst studying frogs hearts in Carl Ludwig’s laboratory in Leipzig – Luciani demonstrated cardiac group beating (which he named periodic rhythm) and recorded 2nd degree AV blocks

Responsible for recording a five-volume comprehensive chronicle on human physiology in the early 1900’s – Fisiologia dell’uomo – published in several languages and continued through five editions

Luciani distinguished three stages of starvation in man: hunger; physiological inanition; and pathological inanition. Luciani succeeded in keeping dogs alive after total excision of the cerebellum, and initiated the modern study of cerebellar function

  • Born 23 November 1840 Ascoli Piceno, Italy
  • 1862 – Medical school, University of Bologna
  • 1864 – published his first paper as a second year medical student, then transferred to the University of Naples for health reasons
  • 1865 – returned to the University of Bologna to avoid a cholera epidemic in Naples
  • 1868 – completed medical school with distinction, thenceforth he stayed as an assistant, then as the full-time Director of Physiology
  • 1872 – Following two prominent publications, he worked with Carl Ludwig in his physiology laboratory in Leipzig.
  • 1873 – Demonstrated ‘cardiac group beating using an isolated frog heart, as later referenced by Wenckebach
  • 1873 – In Leipzig, founded a Physiology Society in order to weekly discuss important publications
  • 1875 – Professor of pathology, University of Parma
  • 1880-1882 – Chairman of Physiology, University of Sienna
  • 1882-1893 – Chairman of Physiology, University of Florence
  • 1893-1917 – Chairman of Physiology, University of Rome
  • Also served as a member of the Superior Council of Education, as a senator, and as rector of the University of Rome
  • 1900 – His 25 years as a professor was celebrated
  • Died 23 June 1919 in Rome, of a urinary tract infection

Medical Eponyms
Luciani periods

1873 – Luigi Luciani demonstrated cardiac group beating which he named ‘periodic rhythm’ whilst studying frogs’ hearts in Carl Ludwig’s laboratory in Leipzig. Luciani used a tonographic apparatus for the graphic representation of the ventricular pulse of the frog heart preparation [1873; 25: 11-94]

1899Karel Frederik Wenckebach (1864 – 1940) credited Luciani as the first to describe this recurrent pattern in his 1873 frog heart experiments and defined this form of group beating as ‘Luciani’schen Perioden’ (Luciani periods)

Man spricht in diesen Fällen von einer “periodischen Function” des Herzens; die Gruppen werden nach dem Entdecker “Luciani’sche Perioden” genannt.…es sich hier um eine regelmässige Herzthätigkeit handelt, welche von einem constantcn schädlichen Einfluss gestört wird. Dieser Einfluss ist ein negativ dromotroper Einfluss, wie aus einer sorgfältigen Vergleichung dieses Pulses mit der Ventrikelthätigkeit des in Luciani’schen Perioden klopfenden Froschherzens hervorgeht.

Wenckebach 1899; 37: 478

In these cases one speaks of a “periodic function” of the heart; the groups are called “Luciani periods” after the discoverer… it is a regular cardiac activity, which is disturbed by a constant harmful influence. This influence is a negative dromotropic influence, as can be seen from a careful comparison of this pulse with the ventricular activity of the frog heart pounding in Luciani’s periods.

Wenckebach 1899; 37: 478

With the advent of the ECG, this form of group beating became known as ‘Wenckebach periodicity‘, the ‘Wenckebach phenomena‘ and later as ‘Mobitz type I atrioventricular block‘ (1924)

Luciani frog heart ventricular pulse experiments

Periodic ventricular rhythm shown by frog heart tied at atria 2mm above AV groove, filled with rabbit serum, and attached to tonographic apparatus – Luciani 1873

Luciani Periods
Luciani Periods (Right to left) 1873

Ventricular pulse waves of Luciani groupings (with pause) taken from the original figures and enlarged 8x. Upshaw and Silverman created a laddergram (drawn beneath the waves) which illustrates Wenckebach second-degree AV block. Circulation. 2000;101:2662-2668

Interpretation of Luciani Periods
Upshaw Silverman interpretation of Luciani periods AV Block. Circulation. 2000


Luciani is remembered for his research on the cerebellum, during which he worked at an insane asylum. He also successfully removed the cerebellum of a dog and a monkey, keeping decerebellated animal subjects alive for as much as one year

Extensive research on the physiology of fasting, studying professional exhibition fasters throughout Europe

Notable Quotables

‘I have always worked because work itself has given me the greatest pleasure in my life’

‘I do not deserve any credit, I only followed my basic instincts’

‘Out of a sentiment of gratitude and justice that will never be extinguished I recognize Professor Ludwig as my true mentor’

Major Publications



Eponymous terms

Dr Ben Mackenzie emergency medicine trainee | LinkedIn |

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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