Part 4: The True Story


The true story

The true story is that on the initiative of Nils-Åke Hillarp, he and I – in 1959 – started a research project at the Histological Institution of the University of Lund. The intent and purpose of the work was to transform monoamines, aiming at making them microscopically visible and thereby accessible for study. In early 1960, Hillarp moved to Göteborg to complete a long-term biochemical research project with Arvid Carlsson, who at the time was a recently-appointed professor and chairman of the Pharmacological Institute of Göteborg’s University.

I, Bengt Falck, was appointed to assume the leadership of Hillarp’s laboratory in Lund.

The “amine project” was continued in Lund, now with a newly recruited co-worker, Alf Torp. Early in 1960 we found that if all water was removed from the tissue samples (by so-called freeze-drying), the monoamines remained in the cells, and that the amines, after having been exposed to dry formaldehyde gas (obtained by heating of paraformaldehyde), were transformed into fluorescent compounds.

It took considerable time to work out all the intricate steps to render a method that gave fully reproducible results. At some time in the early fall of 1960 we had reached our goal. A method that would come to revolutionize neurobiological research had seen the light of the day, and we were indeed granted the privilege to be the first to actually look at monoamines at a cellular level.

This discovery prompted both intense and expansive studies, and in November of 1961 the first scientific article in this field was written by me and Torp. It was based on 10–11 months of studies of numerous tissue types taken from several different mammal species (Med Exp 1962).

Was Arvid Carlsson aware of this? Of course he was! He was actually the co-author of a prior scientific work published (in alphabetical order) by A. Carlsson, B. Falck, N-Å. Hillarp, G. Thieme and A. Torp, Med. Exp. 4:123–125 (1961), that described a method to observe monoaminfluorescense, but unfortunately suffered from insufficient sensitivity to allow visibility of monoamines in e.g. nerve cells. All of the histochemical development work took place in my laboratory in Lund because Arvid Carlsson’s laboratory in Göteborg, where Åke Hillarp had been working since 1960, lacked histological equipment necessary for this purpose (Carlsson’s official note 1965). Obviously, he was aware of the results and was, in addition, informed — not least by Åke Hillarp — about the continuation of our work. A still more tangible proof demonstrating his thorough knowledge about the true story is indeed his expert statement 1962 (Arvid Carlsson, Expert statement), see Part 6 of this homepage.

The story continues… Part 5: Why dig up age-old material?