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JAMA Revisited
March 3, 2015

“Jumping Frenchmen of Maine”

JAMA. 2015;313(9):974. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.11618

Occasionally a disease, like geologic strata, may seem to disappear only to be found in some distant point in time or place. An out-cropping of such a previously subterranean entity comes to light in the March issue of the Archives of Neurology,1 in the “Jumping Frenchmen of Maine.” This picturesque syndrome was observed and reported for the first and only time 85 years ago by an American neurologist, William Beard,2 who found that the disorder began in childhood, was familial, rarely occurred in females, persisted throughout life, and was characterized by a grotesque and violent jump in response to sudden noise or startle. These paroxysms never occurred spontaneously and were not associated with loss of consciousness. In addition, some of the patients showed echolalia, and some responded automatically to a quick command by repeating the command and executing the act even though it might be dangerous or humiliating. Beard was understandably amazed that such a vivid entity had not been described before, especially since it was evidently so common among French Canadian lumberjacks who lived in the forests around Moosehead Lake in Maine. During one summer there, Beard had no difficulty in finding 50 cases, including 14 in one family. He implied that the woods were full of them. Yet, no other observations were made, and this strange community of jumping “jacks,” like the mythical Germelshausen, mysteriously sank out of sight.

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