Pick's Disease: The tedious career of a 'new' neuro-psychiatric disorder

Institute for the History of Medicine and Medical Ethics, University of Cologne, Germany

Between 1892 and 1906 Arnold Pick, Professor of Psychiatry at Charles University in Prague, published a series of four case reports on localized atrophy of the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain. It took more than twenty years before the new syndrome was named after him and another two decades until it gained a wider acceptance within the scientific community. In contrast to this slow evolution, the peculiar type of dementia outlined by Alois Alzheimer in 1906 was recognized as a specific disease only a few years after the first description and quickly considered as a nosological entity.

Using a wide selection of primary sources, the paper will discuss the differing reasons for the lengthy early "career" of Pick's disease: for neurologists and psychiatrists of the 1910's and 1920's its rare occurrence, the heterogeneity of clinical symptoms as well as its course, the variability of macroscopic morbid anatomy, and the absence of reliable histological findings interfered with the "construction" of a "new" brain disease. Political factors such as the support of Alzheimer by the most eminent psychiatrist of the time, Emil Kraepelin, may also be regarded as an important factor. From this perspective, the early history of Pick's disease can be used to describe and analyze the process of neuropsychiatric research and its context at the beginning of the 20th century.


Berrios GE, Porter R (1995): A History of Clinical Psychology, London: Athlone.
Kertes A, Kalvach P (1996): Arnold Pick and German neuropsychiatry in Prague, Arch Neurol 53: 935-938.

Poster Session

Fifth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Providence, Rhode Island, USA