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Special Communication
June 10, 2020

The Development of Kraepelin’s Concept of Dementia Praecox: A Close Reading of Relevant Texts

Author Affiliations
  • 1Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Institute of Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Department of Psychiatry, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond
JAMA Psychiatry. 2020;77(11):1181-1187. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.1266

In 1893 and 1896, in his fourth and fifth textbook editions, Emil Kraepelin brought together 3 syndromes to form the first and second of his 2 prequels to dementia praecox (DP), a definitive version of which he would propose in his 1899 sixth textbook edition. These syndromes, which would become hebephrenic DP, catatonic DP, and paranoid DP, each had distinct histories. Hebephrenic DP was derived from syndromes first proposed by Hecker, and catatonic DP was derived from syndromes first proposed by Kahlbaum, and then both were substantially revised. Kraepelin created paranoid DP de novo from a division of his early broad delusional syndrome Verrücktheit, distinguishing it from paranoia. Two of these syndromes (catatonic DP and paranoid DP) were present in different forms in his earlier textbook editions, and 1 syndrome (hebephrenic DP) was not. In his 2 prequels, the 3 syndromes were listed together with a brief preface. In the sixth textbook edition, they became “clinical forms” of DP with a lengthy integrative introduction. Much more than in his prequels, in his sixth edition, Kraepelin stitched these 3 syndromes together, emphasizing their shared signs, symptoms, and course. Hebephrenia was the core of Kraepelin’s DP concept, while the paranoid subtype fitted least comfortably within his framework. His term dementia was meant in a broad sense consistent with both short-term and rare long-term recoveries. Kraepelin was a pragmatist, not a purist, in his nosologic work and focused both on clinical features and course and outcome. He experimented with various nosologic categories, willing to revise earlier formulations in the light of new data. He was more tentative about his conclusions than many who followed him.

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