Anat Cell Biol 2023; 56(1): 25-31
Published online March 31, 2023
Copyright © Korean Association of ANATOMISTS.
Department of Anatomy, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Phulwarisharif, Patna, India
Correspondence to:Sanjib Kumar Ghosh
Department of Anatomy, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Phulwarisharif, Bihar Patna-801507, India
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Johannes Nathanael Lieberkühn was a prodigious anatomist whose meticulous experiments and precise detailing helped in comprehending the microscopic anatomy of digestive system during early part of eighteenth century. Notably, his inventions in the field of microscopy aptly complemented his quest for anatomical knowledge at microscopic level. He designed a reflector (Lieberkühn reflector) which enhanced the amount of focussed light leading to bright illumination of tissue specimen. He invented the solar microscope which provided excellent resolution of minute anatomical details. Lieberkühn discovered the digestive juice secreting tubular glands (glands of Lieberkühn) present at the base of intestinal villi producing epithelial invaginations (crypts of Lieberkühn). He also described the intricate juxtaposition of blood vessels in relation to a single intestinal villi. Moreover, through empirically designed experimental set up, Lieberkühn was able to demonstrate the flow of lymph from intestinal villi to collecting lymphatic vessels. Also, his grandiose collection of laboratory specimens involving vascular anatomy are a testimony of his untiring efforts in academia. His contributions were seminal in comprehending the anatomy of digestive system and paved the way for future revelations. His work unveiled the enormous scope of microanatomy in medical science and catalysed the advent of histological staining methods a century later.
Keywords: Lieberkühn, Microscope, Intestinal villi, Intestinal crypts, Intestinal glands, Vascular anatomy
Johannes Nathanael Lieberkühn (1711–1756) was a German anatomist (Fig. 1) whose fundamental work in understanding the details of the digestive system at microscopic level was pivotal in advancement of anatomical knowledge during eighteenth century . His keen interest in mechanics as well as iatromathematics and their application in the realm of medical science constituted the core element of his body of work . Although histological staining techniques were yet to be introduced in anatomical practice during his time, Lieberkühn was able to comprehend minute details pertaining to the glands present in relation to villi of small intestine and the arrangement of blood vessels in the vicinity of a villi [3, 4]. His extraordinary flair in the field of mechanics guided him to assemble meticulous experimental models through which he could empirically describe the function of tubular glands in small intestine (glands of Lieberkühn) which were located in epithelial invaginations at the base of each villi (crypts of Lieberkühn) . It is worthwhile to mention here that his exemplary work in the field of anatomical science was achieved through the application of inventions made by none other than Lieberkühn himself in the field of optics [5, 6]. To be precise, Lieberkühn’s contributions were seminal in the field of anatomy and possibly catalysed the advent of histological staining methods which revolutionized the field of microscopic anatomy as a novel epistemological method . In modern times, when anatomical practice is directed to reveal relevant details at nano level, it would be prudent to revisit the achievements of this luminary scholar whose noteworthy contributions constitute significant landmarks in the eventful evolutionary process of the discipline.
An extensive literature search was undertaken for this study and indexed databases such as Medline, PubMed, Scopus, EMBASE, CINAHL, Google Scholar as well as popular search platforms such as Wikipedia and standard Google search engine were referred to for relevant published materials. The following terms were used during literature search: “Johannes Nathanael Lieberkühn”, “Lieberkühn”, “Lieberkühn Biography”, “Lieberkühn and anatomy”, “Lieberkühn and microscopy”, “Microscopic anatomy in eighteenth century”, “Anatomical discoveries in 18th century”, “Lieberkühn and digestive system”, “Crypts of Lieberkühn”, “Glands of Lieberkühn” and “Lieberkühn and vascular system”. Published texts of Lieberkühn and their translations in English were consulted from online libraries while conducting the present study and wherever applicable have been appropriately referenced. The images used in the text were procured from the internet and it was ensured that all the figures included in this study are in public domain
Johannes Nathanael Lieberkühn (1711–1756) was a noted German anatomist and physician of early eighteenth century. He was born in Berlin and his father Johannes Christianus Lieberkühn was a goldsmith by profession. Lieberkühn fulfilled his father’s wish (he wanted his son to devote himself to religious practice) and enrolled himself in a theology course in the prestigious Friedrich-Schiller University at Jena, Germany . However, Lieberkühn was himself interested to pursue a career in science and he added mathematics, physics and philosophy in his academic repertoire at Jena . Lieberkühn’s stay at Jena and his association with scholars across fields proved decisive in his eventual career in medicine. He was deeply influenced by the works of Georg Erhard Hamberger (1697–1755) who along with being a physician was also a noted iatromathematician of that period . It may be mentioned here, that iatromathematics was a popular discipline that has its roots in 17th century Italy, whereby physicians tried to apply laws of mathematics and mechanics in order to understand the functioning of human body . Lieberkühn’s interest in medicine was triggered by his intriguing experience with Hamberger and later on he applied this knowledge towards application of laws of mechanics in his scientific experiments. Accordingly, he continued with his tryst of exploring multiple disciplines and went on to study chemistry, anatomy and physiology . During this time, his perceptions were influenced by Johann Adolph Wedel (1675–1747), who was a physician and the professor of medicine at University of Jena and Hermann Friedrich Teichmayer (1685–1746), who was the professor of experimental physics, medicine and botany at the same institute .
In 1733, Lieberkühn completed his studies in Jena and moved to Rostock, a city on the German Baltic coast, to undertake activities as a religious preacher . However, he realized very soon that his actual place was in the laboratory, where he could pursue his quest for knowledge in the realm of medical science . In this context, he was aptly guided by Johann Gustav Reinbeck (1683–1741), German theologian and philosopher, as he recognized Lieberkühn’s aptitude for medical science . Reinbeck introduced Lieberkühn to the Prussian king, Frederick William I. The king personally interviewed Lieberkühn and upon realizing his potential in science and medicine, relieved him of his religious duties . The chain of events paved the way for Lieberkühn to follow his dream of pursuing a career in medicine. Shortly after, Lieberkühn was incorporated as a fellow by the Berlin Academy of Sciences in recognition of his earlier academic exploits at Jena . Being motivated by the turn of events, Lieberkühn returned to Jena in 1735 and embarked on an academic journey that would prove to be seminal in the advancement of anatomical sciences . His odyssey in quest of knowledge continued as he completed his sojourn in Jena and arrived at Erfurt, where he was inducted as a fellow of the imperial Natural Sciences Academy . He left his motherland and enrolled in the University of Leiden, The Netherlands for further studies in medical sciences . It may be mentioned here that Leiden was already established as a centre of excellence for medical studies in Europe . His stay in Leiden proved to be decisive in developing his perspectives for his future academic exploits. As a medical student, he came in contact with prominent figures in medical sciences such as Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738), Bernhard Siegfried Albinus (1697–1770) and Gerard van Swieten (1700–1772) among many others. He completed his medical studies in Leiden and was awarded his medical degree in 1739 .
After completing his medical studies, Lieberkühn travelled to London and Paris (both were established and preeminent centres for advances in studies within the realm of medical sciences) to apprise himself with the recent headways in medicine and effectual areas of research pertaining to anatomical sciences [9, 14]. The following year
Microscopic anatomy was established as an integral element of anatomical sciences by late 17th century courtesy of extraordinary works of luminary scientists like Marcello Malpighi (1628–1694) and many others [3, 15]. It may be mentioned here, that compound microscope (that was used by anatomists during 17th century) was discovered by Galileo way back in 1609 . The instrument underwent minor modifications and adjustments as per the needs of the anatomical practitioners and the trend continued into first half of 18th century . Lieberkühn, owing to his initial training in iatromathematics as well as mechanics in Jena, developed deep interest in the application of his knowledge in refining optical details of the microscope . In accordance with his ongoing experiments with optical aspects of microscopes, Lieberkühn invented an improved device for illuminating specimens for microscopic examination in 1738 while continuing with his medical graduation in Leiden. He designed a
Lieberkühn’s tryst with pioneering contributions towards refining the optical efficiency of microscope continued as he invented the
Lieberkühn focussed on exploring the anatomical details of the digestive system while undertaking his medical graduation in Leiden. This is evident from the topic of his dissertation “
During his extensive studies pertaining to glands related to villi of small intestine, Lieberkühn got interested in the details of circulatory vessels and the mechanics involved in the movement of fluid in these vessels . As he was already working on experimental models involving the digestive system, hence he focussed his attention towards mucosal vascular architecture of small intestine . He used animal models (mostly amphibians) for this purpose . He noted that the arterioles related to a villi ramify to the under surface of the mucosa and eventually terminate in the capillary plexus surrounding the
His volume of work in vascular anatomy can be gauged by the fact that in his lifetime, he had accumulated more than 400 specimens of vascular tissues of various animals. Such enormous collection was built around his tireless desire to expose and preserve vascular tissues for subsequent exploration of anatomical details [2, 31]. His collection comprised of 3 types of anatomical preparations: wet specimens preserved in transparent fluid, dry specimens injected and hardened and tissue sections hardened through fixation for viewing under microscope [4, 9]. After his death, his wife Catherine donated the entire Lieberkühn collection to the Russian Medical Military Academy’s Museum of Anatomy, where they remain in public display till present day . Lieberkühn’s collection of anatomical specimens was in accordance with the rapidly evolving epistemological method of building anatomy museums, which has its roots in early eighteenth century Europe [3, 33].
Lieberkühn was a prodigious anatomist and an ardent practitioner of optical mechanics relevant to the field of microscopy. His ground breaking inventions in the field of microscopy aptly complemented his quest for anatomical knowledge at microscopic level. His meticulous descriptions and deep insights in relation to the anatomy of intestinal glands, their functioning and intricate association with network of blood vessels juxtaposed with the intestinal villi is unparalleled in medical science. His tireless efforts helped in comprehending the anatomy of digestive system and paved the way for further enhancement of knowledge with the advent of histological staining methods almost a century later.
The author expresses heartfelt gratitude to all the residents and faculty members of the Department of Anatomy, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Phulwarisharif, Patna, India for their unconditional support throughout the study. I am grateful to the authorities of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Phulwarisharif, Patna, India for their kind cooperation during the course of this study.
Conceptualization: SKG. Data acquisition: SKG. Data analysis or interpretation: SKG. Drafting of the manuscript: SKG. Critical revision of the manuscript: SKG. Approval of the final version of the manuscript: SKG.
No potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported.