Duchenne's study of the physiology of movement

M.S. RAFII <Michaal_Rafii@brown.edu> and S.H. GREENBLATT <Samuel_Greenblatt@brown.edu>
Department of Neuroscience, Brown University School of Medicine, Providence, Rhode Island, USA

Among G.B.A. Duchenne's (1806-1875) contributions to neurology are his descriptions of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (1852), Duchenne-Aran motor neuron disease (1849), locomotor ataxia (1858), the muscle biopsy technique (1868), Duchenne-Erb palsy (1872), and the first use of photography to illustrate neurological disease (1862). There exists however, Duchenne's lesser known study of specific muscles and their relations to movements, including facial expressions. The basis for this work came out of Duchenne's desire to diagnose and treat patients stricken with neuromuscular disorders using electrical stimulation. Drawing on the rapid understanding of electric fish physiology, Duchenne combined faradic stimulation with photography, both recent inventions, to analyze muscle action in a unique and powerful way. Duchenne spent twenty-two years (1848-1870) at the Salpêtrière hospital in Paris performing rigorous stimulation studies and compiling photographic patient records. The hospital was fertile ground for his work as it had over 20,000 patients including the ill, insane and indigent. It was through studying and classifying some of these people, using the combination of physical examination, electrical stimulation, and photographic analysis that Duchenne began to catalogue various neurological disorders. Duchenne also described the normal functional anatomy of muscles in a way which had not been possible. Namely, he placed the electrically-induced contractions of certain muscles in the context of defined movements. In his study of facial expression, emotional meaning was systematically added to nerve and muscle groups. Consequently, Duchenne undertook a comprehensive study of human movement and neurologic pathophysiology while on a quest to find a use for electrical therapy and photography in medicine.


Session IV -- Poster Session 1
Friday, 15 June 2001, 9:00 - 10:00 am

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