Simultaneous discovery of cutaneous sensory spots

Ulf Norrsell1, Stanley Finger2 <sfinger@artsci.wustl.edu> and Clara Lajonchere2
1Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden, and 2Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA

Descriptions of the so called sensory spots of the skin still may be found in textbooks. By use of suitable methods, different spots on the skin surface can be shown to be selectively or particularly sensitive to one only of four sensory qualities. In order of density of appearance they are: pain, touch, cool, and warm. The presence of such spots was observed apparently simultaneously in 1882 by three different, independent investigators and their publications appeared soon afterwards. Two papers on punctate sensitivity of the skin were published in 1882 and 1883 by Magnus Blix of Uppsala University, Sweden; three papers by Alfred Goldscheider, assistant physician at Neisse in Germany, were published in 1884; and one by Henry Donaldson of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, was published in 1885. Donaldson's findings originated from a serendipitous observation, whereas Blix and Goldscheider considered their findings to be products of inquiries about the relevance of ]ohannes Muller's "laws of specific nerve energies." The three investigators' alleged confirmation of "Muller's laws" for the skin was spectacular although perhaps not exhaustive. Nevertheless, the essence of their findings was eventually substantiated by electrophysiological and neurosurgical observations. The demonstration of cutaneous sensory spots, despite having been made at the same time by three scientists from different countries, stands forth as a rare instance of significant, scientific discovery without a fight for priority.


Session IV
Friday, 20 June 1997, 17.35 - 17.55

Second Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and 6th Meeting of the European Club on the History of Neurology (ECHN)

Leiden, The Netherlands