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Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard

Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard (variant Charles Edward), Mauritian physiologist and neurologist, was born at Port Louis, Mauritius, on the April 8 1817. His father was an American and his mother a Frenchwoman, but he himself always desired to be looked upon as a British subject.


After graduating in medicine at Paris in 1846 he returned to Mauritius with the intention of practising there, but in 1852 he went to America. There he was appointed to the faculty of the Medical College of Virginia where he conducted experiments in the basement of the Egyptian Building. Subsequently he returned to Paris, and in 1859 he migrated to London, becoming physician to the National Hospital for the Paralysed and Epileptic. There he stayed for about five years, expounding his views on the pathology of the nervous system in numerous lectures which attracted considerable attention. In 1864 he again crossed the Atlantic, and was appointed professor of physiology and neuropathology at Harvard. This position he relinquished in 1867, and in 1869 became professor at the École de Medecine in Paris, but in 1873 he again returned to America and began to practise in New York. Finally, he went back to Paris to succeed Claude Bernard in 1878 as professor of experimental medicine in the College de France, and he remained there till his death, which occurred on the April 2 1894 at Sceaux, France. He was elected in 1886 as a member of the French Academy of Sciences.


Brown-Séquard was a keen observer and experimentalist. He contributed largely to our knowledge of the blood and animal heat, as well as many facts of the highest importance on the nervous system. He was the first scientist to work out the physiology of the spinal cord, demonstrating that the decussation of the fibres carrying pain and temperature sensation occurs in the cord itself. His name was immortalized in the history of medicine with the description of a syndrome which received his name (Brown-Séquard syndrome) due to the hemisection of the spinal cord.

Far more importantly, he was one of the first to postulate the existence of substances secreted into the bloodstream to affect distant organs - substances that we now know as hormones. In particular, he demonstrated (in 1856) that that removal of the adrenal glands resulted in death, due to lack of essential hormones. In his extreme old age, he advocated the hypodermic injection of a fluid prepared from the testicles of guinea-pigs and dogs, as a means of prolonging human life. It was known, among scientists, derisively, as the Brown-Séquard Elixir. His researches, published in about 500 essays and papers, especially in the Archives de Physiologie, which he helped to found in 1868 along with Jean-Martin Charcot and Alfred Vulpian, cover a very wide range of physiological and pathological subjects. In the late 19th century Brown-Séquard gave rise to much controversy in the case of supposed modification-inheritance by his experiments on guinea pigs. In a series of experiments extending over many years (1869 to 1891), Brown-Séquard showed that a partial section of the spinal cord, or a section of the sciatic nerve, was followed after a few weeks by a peculiar morbid state resembling epilepsy. The offspring of the animals operated on were frequently decrepit, and a certain number showed a tendency to the so-called epilepsy.

  • Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard. WhoNamedIt.


This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Charles-Édouard_Brown-Séquard". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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