He studied medicine at the University of Göttingen, where he worked closely with Rudolf Wagner (1806–1864). In 1851 he accompanied Wagner and Theodor Billroth (1829–1894) on an expedition to Trieste, where he performed scientific studies of torpedo fish. In 1852 he earned his doctorate at Göttingen, and was later a university professor at Basel (from 1855), Freiburg (from 1857) and Göttingen (1860–1901). – His name is associated with Meissner's corpuscles, which are mechanoreceptors that are responsible for sensitivity to light touch. They were first described in 1852, with Meissner and Wagner each feeling that he alone should be given priority as to discovery of the corpuscles. A controversy took place between the two men, causing a strained relationship that lasted for several years.