The Falck-Hillarp Fluorescence Method
The year 1960 saw the early development of a new and revolutionary method in neurobiological research. Hence, in 2012 it was 50 years since the initial report of the new method entered into the world of scientific inquiry. The important advance was the ability of our method to transform certain monoamines — serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine) and the three catecholamines, dopamine, noradrenaline, adrenaline — and certain chemically related substances into compounds that have the ability to fluoresce, i.e. emit visible light upon exposure to light invisible to the human eye.
This made it possible to identify the cell types in which these compounds are present, and thus for the first time comprehend their important biological functions.
The method made it possible to study events that may lead to changes in concentration of such substances in the cells that harbor them and their influence on several physiological body functions. The method became quite revolutionary within multiple arenas of investigative medicine, leading to both extensive and intensive activities within international biological research.
The reason why a true story of the origin of the method has to be presented in this particular way may seem unbelievable. In a public report to the Karolinska Institute, Arvid Carlsson, Emeritus Professor of Pharmacology and Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology in 2000 (Carlsson’s official note 1965), stated that this method of fluorescence microscopy resulted from less than one day’s work in the year 1961.
This he did against his own better knowledge because in another official note (Arvid Carlsson, Expert statement, see also Part 6 below), which he wrote only three years earlier, he gives me and Torp all the credit for the creation of the method and all underlying work. He writes among other things:
“Falck, together with his coworker A. Torp, have invested extensive efforts to elucidate the histochemistry of chatecholamines……But what is far more important is that — largely because of Falck´s technical ability and scientific imagination — it has been possible to elaborate extremely sensitive fluorescense-microscopic techniques aiming at histochemical demonstration of catecholamines and 5-hydroxytryptamine.”
How can a person so completely contradict himself? His statement of 1965 represents a serious distortion of the reality.
Since then, Carlsson has repeatedly published this myth, once in collaboration with Annica Dahlström, Professor Emerita in Histology at the Göteborg University who, in turn, has used the story in some publications of her own. An American medical history researcher, Richard Burack, has expended great efforts to render a wholly objective account of the history of the origin of the fluorescence method (Bengt Falck – The Lund Histochemist… Research by Richard Burack). He noted that the myth has survived into the present time, and therefore has to be refuted and corrected. The Cajal Club and FENS (Federation of European Neurosciences) celebrated the 50th anniversary of the method in July 2012. The meeting was announced on the Internet in a manner that emphasizes Burack´s observation that Carlsson´s myth is kept alive (for further details, see Part 10 of this homepage).