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History of Neurology
November 2004

Psychiatric Symptoms and Brain Tumors: A Brief Historical Overview

Author Affiliations

Copyright 2004 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2004

Arch Neurol. 2004;61(11):1800-1804. doi:10.1001/archneur.61.11.1800

Intracranial tumors with psychiatric symptoms are relatively uncommon but clinically important events. How did we come to recognize brain tumors as clinical entities that could mimic psychiatric symptoms? During the 16th and 17th centuries, the practice of performing human autopsies for academic purposes eventually led to the link between brain tumors and mental symptoms. Giovanni Battista Morgagni1 (1682-1771) was the first physician to describe a patient with psychiatric symptoms and what may have been a brain tumor. Recognizing this association was a slow process, mostly because of the paucity of practical ways to diagnose and treat psychiatric illness and brain tumors until the late 1800s. The movement led by the French physician Philippe Pinel (1745-1826) influenced physicians to think of psychiatric patients as sick human beings who did not deserve to be physically restrained or mistreated.2 The creation of large psychiatric hospitals that performed autopsies set the ground for the solid recognition of the association of brain tumors with psychiatric symptoms.