Early animal experiments in the analysis of clinical findings in motor function: The early 18th century contributions of Pourfour du Petit

Lawrence KRUGER1 and Larry W. SWANSON2
1University of California, Los Angeles, USA; and 2University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA

Francois Pourfour du Petit (1664-1741), generally known as “Petit”, is probably best known for his numerous contributions to ophthalmology, including several instruments for measurement, and especially for establishing a successful procedure for cataract surgery. He also performed animal experiments interrupting the “intercostal nerves” (cervical sympathetics) in 1727, describing the clinical sympathectomy syndrome later bearing the eponym of Horner. During the European wars of the Grand Alliance and the Succession, Petit observed soldiers’ head wounds and their striking contralateral motor consequences, described in a rare work published in Namur in 1710 entitled Lettres d’un medecin des hopitaux du roi a un autre medecin de ses amis. This consists of three essays, the first of which includes an account of lesions in the brain of dogs and a plausible anatomical analysis, immodestly presented as “un nouveau Systeme du Cerveau.” An account of Petit’s findings, his interpretation of the pyramidal decussation, and his career will be presented, as well as the impact and impediments in conducting a research project in the context of early European medicine.


Session III
Tuesday, 5 July 2005, 1.30 - 2.00 pm

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

St. Andrews, Scotland, 2005