New Issue JHN: Facial Palsy, Nerve Tissue, & More

The fall issue of the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences is now online. The issue includes pieces on the history of investigations of facial palsy, the structure of nerve tissue, and a 17th century case of word blindness. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Early Observations on Facial Palsy,” by J. M. S. Pearce. The abstract reads,

Before Charles Bell’s eponymous account of facial palsy, physicians of the Graeco-Roman era had chronicled the condition. The later neglected accounts of the Persian physicians Abu al-Hasan Ali ibn Sahl Rabban al-Tabari and Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakarīya Rāzi (“Rhazes”) and Avicenna in the first millennium are presented here as major descriptive works preceding the later description by Stalpart van der Wiel in the seventeenth century and those of Friedreich and Bell at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries.

“Discovering the Structure of Nerve Tissue: Part 2: Gabriel Valentin, Robert Remak, and Jan Evangelista Purkynĕ,” by Alexandr Chvátal. The abstract reads,

During the 1830s, the use of improved microscopic techniques together with new histological methods, including tissue fixation, allowed more precise data to be obtained concerning the structure of nerve tissue of animals as well as humans. The present article, based on the translations of original texts never before published, brings together for the first time the discoveries of famous scholars Gustav Valentin, Robert Remak, and Jan Evangelista Purkynĕ, who made their significant discoveries in the field of neuroscience almost simultaneously and shows how their findings affected each other. In addition, this article also contains digitally remastered and reconstructed figures published in the original works of Valentin, Remak, and Purkynĕ and they are displayed for the first time in high quality. Although the fundamental discoveries of these famous scholars did not imply the discovery of nerve cells as we know them today, they were certainly a very important basis for further research of many other eminent scholars during the second half of the nineteenth century.

“A Patient With Word Blindness in the Seventeenth Century,” by Jan van Gijn. The abstract reads,

Johann Jakob Wepfer (1620–1695), city physician in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, published two books on “apoplexy.” He proposed new ideas about the events in the brain during such attacks, based on Harvey’s theory of the circulation of the blood. Wepfer postulated extravasation of whole blood or serum in the brain, in opposition to the Galenic notion of blocked ventricles. His case histories are remarkably precise and untainted by interpretation. This allows the recognition of a patient with word blindness, who was also unable to read words written by himself. Unlike patients with pure “alexia without agraphia,” he could not write complete sentences because of additional language defects, especially speech comprehension. Jules Dejerine (1849–1917) would, in 1892, not only describe a patient with the pure form of this syndrome (cécité verbale avec intégrité de l’écriture spontanée et sous dictée) but also provide an explanation of its anatomical basis.

“A Physiologist’s War: Captain T. Graham Brown RAMC (1915–1919),” by Peter Foster. The abstract reads,

During the five years before the outbreak of the First World War, Thomas Graham Brown (1882–1965) conducted research into the control of locomotion that gained him a deserved and long-lasting reputation as a neuroscientist and, in 1927, was recognized by election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society. In 1915, with the First World War raging, he agonized about continuing his research or joining the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). Told by his father to seek a commission, he served two and half years in Macedonia with the British Salonika Force. Whilst in Greece, he kept a daily diary. The entries from June 1916 to May 1917 are extant. They are unpublished and provide the background to the narrative to follow. Casualties with traumatic injury to the brain and spinal cord afforded him the opportunity to carry out careful observations, particularly concerning sensory localization, which resulted in novel findings and his observations on shell shock led to him being called as an expert witness to the national inquiry into the nature and treatment of the condition. In 1920, Graham Brown was appointed to the Chair of Physiology in Cardiff, which he held until 1947.

““Hirnsymptome bei Carcinomatose” — Hermann Oppenheim and an Early Description of a Paraneoplastic Neurological Syndrome,” by Paulina Schulz & Harald Prüss. The abstract reads,

Paraneoplastic neurological syndromes belong to the most enigmatic and fascinating disorders. Their remarkable clinical spectrum ranges from sensory neuronopathy to cerebellar degeneration or limbic encephalitis. We retrace the clinical and pathological description of a forgotten case published by Hermann Oppenheim in 1888, which to our knowledge represents the first report of a paraneoplastic neurological syndrome. The young Oppenheim used thorough observation and good clinical judgment to suggest a causal link between the seemingly mere association of an underlying malignancy and a neurological syndrome, decades before Denny-Brown’s identification of sensory neuronopathy in 1948 and a century before the discovery of “anti-Hu” antibodies. Oppenheim anticipated that scientific progress was required to prove this link, and he indicated his finding as “a pointer for future observers.” In this way, he leaves the reader with the fascinating question of which observations during our current neurology practice could be the next “pointers” in medical research.

“From Antiquity to the N-Methyl-D-Aspartate Receptor: A History of Delirium Tremens,” by F. J. Rodriguez Porcel & H. S. Schutta. The abstract reads,

Delirium associated with excessive alcohol consumption has been known since antiquity. This condition became more common as the supply of distilled fermented liquors increased. Delirium, including delirium associated with excessive alcohol consumption, was for many centuries regarded as a form of brain inflammation — “phrenitis” — and was treated with depletion. At the end of the eighteenth century treatment by depletion of alcohol-related delirium began to be replaced by sedation and led to significantly better outcomes. Thomas Sutton established that alcohol-related delirium was a disease sui generis, distinct from phrenitis, and he named it delirium tremens. Because historical accounts of this disease are rare, brief, and not easily accessible, we offer this account of events that culminated in the discovery of the molecular basis of delirium tremens.

“Descartes and His Peculiar Sleep Pattern,” by Aleksandar Damjanovic, Srdjan D. Milovanovic & Nikola N. Trajanovic. The abstract reads,

Rene Descartes (1596–1650) was a mathematician, philosopher, and scholar, whose work set a foundation for modern science. Among other interests, he focused on locating the “core and the seat of the soul” and concluded that the pineal gland was such a structure. Recent scientific findings validate Descartes’ deep interest in pineal gland, appreciating its role as part of the circadian rhythm system. On the other hand, the biographical information suggests that Descartes had an aberration of the circadian rhythm (delayed sleep phase). Coincidentally, this meant that one of the most important things in his private life and one of the most significant areas of his research intersected in an overlooked way.

“Rhazes and an Early Case With Possible Hypertensive or Reversible Encephalopathy,” by Mohammad E. Zohalinezhad & Mohammad M. Zarshenas. The abstract reads,

In one of Rhazes’ medical treatises, Tales and Stories of Patients, descriptions, medical manifestations, and treatment approaches of 34 patients were mentioned. Among those, an epileptic patient with a florid face and congested veins was cured by performing venesection on his saphenous and basilic veins. Signs and symptoms of the case might correspond to hypertensive or reversible encephalopathy.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.