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Jean-Martin Charcot

Born November 29, 1825(1825-11-29)
Paris, France
Died August 16, 1893
Lac des Settons, Nièvre
Residence France
Nationality French
Fields Neurologist and professor of anatomical pathology
Institutions Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital
Known for studying and discovering neurological diseases

Jean-Martin Charcot (29 November 1825 – 16 August 1893) (shär-ˈkō,) was a French neurologist and professor of anatomical pathology.[1] He is known as "the founder of modern neurology" and is "associated with at least 15 medical eponyms", including Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease).[1] He has also been referred to as "the father of French neurology and one of the world's pioneers of neurology".[2]

His work greatly influenced the developing fields of neurology and psychology. He was the "foremost neurologist of late nineteenth-century France"[3] and has been called "the Napoleon of the neuroses".[4]



Born in Paris, France, Charcot worked and taught at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital for 33 years. His reputation as an instructor drew students from all over Europe.[4] In 1882, he established a neurology clinic at Salpêtrière, which was the first of its kind in Europe.[1]

Charcot's primary focus was neurology. He named and was the first to describe multiple sclerosis.[1][5] He was also the first to describe a disorder known as Charcot joint or Charcot arthropathy, a degeneration of joint surfaces resulting from loss of proprioception. He researched the functions of different parts of the brain and the role of arteries in cerebral hemorrhage.[1]

Charcot was among the first to describe Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT). The announcement was made simultaneously with Pierre Marie of France (his resident) and Howard Henry Tooth of England. The disease is also sometimes called peroneal muscular atrophy.[6]

In 1861 and 1862, Charcot, with Alfred Vulpian, added more symptoms to James Parkinson's clinical description and then subsequently attached the name Parkinson's disease to the syndrome.[7]

Charcot's most enduring work was on hypnosis and hysteria. He believed that hysteria was a neurological disorder caused by hereditary problems in the nervous system.[4][8]He used hypnosis to induce a state of hysteria in patients and studied the results, and was single-handedly responsible for changing the French medical community's opinion about the validity of hypnosis (it was previously rejected as Mesmerism).

Charcot's works about hypnosis and his public demonstrations of "hypnotized" persons in an auditorium were sharply criticized by Hippolyte Bernheim, a leading neurologist of the time,[citation needed] and by Charcot's former scientific assistant Axel Munthe in his famous memoirs The Story of San Michele.[1]

In 1870 Charcot married Caroline Johnson. They had one child whom they named Jean-Baptiste.


Charcot (left) demonstrates hypnosis on a "hysterical" Salpêtrière patient, "Blanche" (Marie Wittman), who is supported by Dr. Joseph Babiński (rear).

Charcot's name is associated with many diseases and conditions including:[1]

Also, Charcot Island in Antarctica was named in his honor by his son, Jean-Baptiste Charcot.


Charcot is just as famous for his students: Sigmund Freud,[4] Joseph Babinski,[1] Pierre Janet,[4] William James, Pierre Marie, Albert Londe, Charles-Joseph Bouchard,[1] Georges Gilles de la Tourette,[1] Axel Munthe,[1] and Alfred Binet.[4] Charcot bestowed the eponym for Tourette syndrome in honor of his student, Georges Gilles de la Tourette.[3][9]

Charcot appears, along with Maria Skłodowska-Curie (Madame Curie) and Charcot's patient "Blanche" (Marie Wittman), in Per Olov Enquist's 2004 novel The Book about Blanche and Marie (English translation, 2006, ISBN 1-58567-668-3). He also appears in the 2005 novel by Sebastian Faulks, Human Traces, and in Axel Munthe's 1929 memoir The Story of San Michele. In a letter to the New York Times Book Review of January 18, 1931, however, Charcot's son wrote that 'Dr Munthe never was trained by my father'. And in his 2008 biography of Munthe (ISBN 978-1-84511-720-7), Bengt Jangfeldt says that 'Charcot is not mentioned in a single letter of Axel's out of the hundreds that have been preserved from his Paris years.'

Although by the 1870s, Charcot was France's best known physician, according to Edward Shorter, his ideas in psychiatry were refuted, and France did not recover for decades. Shorter wrote in his A History of Psychiatry that Charcot himself understood "almost nothing" about major psychiatric illness, and that he was "quite lacking in common sense and grandiosely sure of his own judgement". After his death, the illness "hysteria" that Charcot described was found to be nothing more than an "artifact of suggestion".[10]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Enerson, Ole Daniel. "Jean-Martin Charcot". Who Named It?. Retrieved 13 October 2008. 
  2. ^ Teive HA, Chien HF, Munhoz RP, Barbosa ER (December 2008). "Charcot's contribution to the study of Tourette's syndrome". Arq Neuropsiquiatr 66 (4): 918–21. PMID 19099145. 
  3. ^ a b Kushner (2000), p. 11
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Jean-Martin Charcot". A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries. WGBH via Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). 1998. Retrieved 13 October 2008. 
  5. ^ Charcot, J. Histologie de la sclerose en plaques. Gazette des hopitaux, Paris, 1868; 41: 554–555.
  6. ^ Enersen, Ole Daniel. Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. Who Named It? Retrieved on 16 October 2008.
  7. ^ Enerson, Ole Daniel. James Parkinson. Who Named It? Retrieved on 16 October 2008.
  8. ^ Lectures on the diseases of the nevous systemp. 85
  9. ^ Black, KJ. Tourette Syndrome and Other Tic Disorders. eMedicine, (22 March 2006). Retrieved on 27 June 2006.
    * Enerson, Ole Daniel. Georges Albert Édouard Brutus Gilles de la Tourette. Who Named It? Retrieved on 28 June 2006.
  10. ^ Shorter, Edward (1997). A History of Psychiatry. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 84–86. ISBN 0-471-24531-3. 


  • Kushner, HI. A cursing brain?: The histories of Tourette syndrome. Harvard University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-674-00386-1

Further reading

  • Bernheim, Hippolyte: Hypnotisme et suggestion: Doctrine de la Salpêtrière et doctrine de Nancy. -in: Le Temps, 29 January 1891.
  • Carrez, Jean-Pierre: Femmes opprimées à la Salpêtrière. Paris, 2005.
  • Gauchet, Marcel; Swain, Gladys: Le vrai Charcot: les chemins imprévus de l’inconscient. Paris, 1997.
  • Georges Didi-Huberman: Die Erfindung der Hysterie. Die photographische Klinik von Jean-Martin Charcot. Paderborn: Fink 1997. ISBN 3-7705-3148-5 (frz. Erstausgabe 1982)
  • Goetz CG, Bonduelle M, and Gelfand T (1995): Charcot: Constructing Neurology. New York, Oxford University Press.
  • Guillain G (1959): J.-M. Charcot (1825-1893): His Life - His Work. (Bailey P trans.). New York, Paul B. Hoeber.
  • Thuillier, Jean: Monsieur Charcot de la Salpêtrière. Paris, 1993.
  • Werner Brück: Erotisierte Darstellungen hysteroepileptischer Frauen. Norderstedt, 2008. ISBN 3-8370-6917-6

External links



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