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History of Neurology: Seminal Citations
April 2000

The History of Tabes Dorsalis and the Impact of Observational Studies in Neurology

Author Affiliations

From the University of São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil.



Arch Neurol. 2000;57(4):605-606. doi:10.1001/archneur.57.4.605

It is common for a particular aspect of scientific knowledge to undergo a great advance in a brief period of time after the discovery of new investigational procedures that broaden research horizons. Knowledge of neurosyphilis increased markedly during the second half of the 19th century. As revealed by the example of tabes dorsalis, this progress was not related to new research methods but instead to the impetus of careful clinical observations.

The credit for the first clinical and pathological description of tabes dorsalis is attributed to Moritz Heinrich Romberg1) who, in 1840, included excessive drinking and sexual activity among the possible causes of the condition, but did not mention syphilis. A few years later, Guillaume Duchenne2(1858), also known as Duchenne de Boulogne, made an almost complete clinical description of tabes dorsalis, which he named progressive locomotor ataxia, and made some comments about the etiology:

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