Friedrich Heinrich Lewy (1885-1950) and his work

Berlin, Germany

In 1912 Friedrich Heinrich Lewy first described the inclusion bodies named after him and seen in paralysis agitans (p.a.). Tretiakoff had found (1919) that the nucleus niger is most likely to be affected but in a subsequent large-scale series of postmortem examinations (1923), Lewy was able to confirm this for a minority of cases only, with the exception of those that displayed postencephalytic Parkinsonism (and an unknown number of atypical Parkinson syndrome cases not identified until the 1960s). In a speculative paper (1932) he saw similarities between inclusion bodies in p.a. and viral diseases like lyssa, and postulated a viral genesis of p.a.. In a historical review of basal ganglia diseases (1942) he did not mention the putative significance of the inclusion bodies for the postmortem diagnosis. It seems that their importance was seen only after Lewy's death, long after Tretiakoff's initial naming of the corps de Lewy. Lewy had, however, already described their diffuse and cortical distribution (1923). An identification of diffuse Lewy body disease or dementia followed much later. Lewy's career in many diverse branches of neurology and internal medicine was strongly affected by the First World War and the difficult situation faced by Jews in Germany. Shortly after the Neurological Institute was founded in Berlin in 1932 (as a clinic and research institute), he was force, in 1933, to emigrate. His exile in England and the United States mirrors the fate of many German Jews and academics in the first half of the twentieth century.

Session VI -- Biographical Issues
Friday, 15 June 2001, 2:30 pm

Sixth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and
Eighth Meeting of the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN)

Cologne, Germany