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History of Neurology: Neurology was there
November 2002

Jean-Martin Charcot and the Aging Brain

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Neurological Sciences and Pharmacology, Rush University/Rush-Presbyterian-St Luke's Medical Center, Chicago, Ill.



Arch Neurol. 2002;59(11):1821-1824. doi:10.1001/archneur.59.11.1821

Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) was the premier clinical neurologist of the 19th century (Figure 1). As the original chaired Professor of Diseases of the Nervous System at the University of Paris, he was an international celebrity who published widely and traveled internationally.1 For a variety of administrative, medical, and research reasons, most of Charcot's neurological work involved the aging brain and nervous system. The focal geographic point of Charcot's illustrious career was the Salpêtrière Hospital, officially known as the Hospice de Vieillesse-Femmes, or State Hospice for the Elderly–Women's Division. Within the walls of this enormous complex, Charcot created a neurological mecca and developed a large inpatient unit, clinical laboratories, and a comprehensive pathology service for studies of autopsy specimens. However, when Charcot arrived at the Salpêtrière in 1862 as a new appointee in the public health system, the environment did not immediately favor a successful academic career. The hospice primarily housed thousands of indigent, chronically ill women who had no other place to live, and annual mortality was approximately 25% (Figure 2).2 Whereas these figures discouraged others, Charcot turned them to his advantage, leading him to remark, "We are in possession of a sort of living pathology museum of almost inexhaustible resources."4(p3)