Jean-Martin Charcot

Jean-Martin Charcot

Jean-Martin Charcot
Born (1826-11-29)29 November 1826
Paris, France
Died 16 August 1893(1893-08-16) (aged 67)
Lac des Settons, Nièvre, France
Residence France
Nationality French
Fields Neurologist and professor of anatomical pathology
Institutions Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital
Known for Studying and discovering neurological diseases

Jean-Martin Charcot (; French: ; 29 November 1825 – 16 August 1893) was a French neurologist and professor of anatomical pathology.[1] He is known as "the founder of modern neurology",[2] and his name has been associated with at least 15 medical eponyms, including Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease and Charcot disease (better known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, motor neurone disease, or Lou Gehrig disease).[1] Charcot has been referred to as "the father of French neurology and one of the world's pioneers of neurology".[3] His work greatly influenced the developing fields of neurology and psychology; modern psychiatry owes much to the work of Charcot and his direct followers.[4] He was the "foremost neurologist of late nineteenth-century France"[5] and has been called "the Napoleon of the neuroses".[6]


  • Personal life 1
  • Profession 2
    • Neurology 2.1
    • Studies on hypnosis and hysteria 2.2
    • Arts 2.3
  • Eponyms 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Quotations 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Personal life

Born in Paris, Charcot worked and taught at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital for 33 years. His reputation as an instructor drew students from all over Europe.[6] In 1882, he established a neurology clinic at Salpêtrière, which was the first of its kind in Europe.[1] Charcot was a part of the French neurological tradition and studied under, and greatly revered, Duchenne de Boulogne.[7][8]

"He married a rich widow, Madame Durvis, in 1862 and had two children, Jeanne and Jean-Baptiste, who later became a doctor and a famous polar explorer".[9]



Charcot uses hypnotism to treat hysteria and other abnormal mental conditions. All materials from "Iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière" (Jean Martin Charcot, 1878)

Charcot's primary focus was neurology. He named and was the first to describe multiple sclerosis.[1][10] Summarizing previous reports and adding his own clinical and pathological observations, Charcot called the disease sclérose en plaques. The three signs of Multiple sclerosis now known as Charcot's triad 1 are nystagmus, intention tremor, and telegraphic speech, though these are not unique to MS. Charcot also observed cognition changes, describing his patients as having a "marked enfeeblement of the memory" and "conceptions that formed slowly". He was also the first to describe a disorder known as Charcot joint or Charcot arthropathy, a degeneration of joint surfaces resulting from loss of proprioception. He researched the functions of different parts of the brain and the role of arteries in cerebral hemorrhage.[1]

Charcot was among the first to describe Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT). The announcement was made simultaneously with Pierre Marie of France (his resident) and Howard Henry Tooth of England. The disease is also sometimes called peroneal muscular atrophy.[11]

Charcot's studies between 1868 and 1881 were a landmark in the understanding of Parkinson's disease.[12] Among other advances he made the distinction between rigidity, weakness and bradykinesia.[12] He also led the disease formerly named paralysis agitans (shaking palsy) to be renamed after James Parkinson.[12] He also noted apparent variations on PD, such as Parkinson's disease with hyperextension.[13] Charcot received the first European professional chair of clinical diseases for the nervous system in 1882.[14]

Studies on hypnosis and hysteria

Charcot is best known today, outside the community of neurologists, for his work on hypnosis and hysteria. He initially believed that hysteria was a neurological disorder for which patients were pre-disposed by hereditary features of their nervous system,[6][15] but near the end of his life concluded that hysteria was a psychological disease.[16]

Charcot first began studying hysteria after creating a special ward for non-insane females with "hystero-epilepsy"; he discovered two distinct forms of hysteria among these women; minor hysteria and major hysteria.[17] His interest in hysteria and hypnotism "developed at a time when the general public was fascinated in ‘animal magnetism’ and ‘mesmerization’",[18] which was later revealed to be a method of inducing hypnosis.[19] His study of hysteria "attract[ed] both scientific and social notoriety".[20]

"Charcot and his school considered the ability to be hypnotized as a clinical feature of hysteria ... For the members of the Salpêtrière School, susceptibility to hypnotism was synonymous with disease, i.e. hysteria, although they later recognized ... that grand hypnotisme (in hysterics) should be differentiated from petit hypnotisme, which corresponded to the hypnosis of ordinary people".[18]

The Salpêtrière School's position on hypnosis was sharply criticized by [18]


Charcot demonstrating hypnosis on a "hysterical" Salpêtrière patient, "Blanche" (Blanche Wittmann), who is supported by Dr. Joseph Babiński (rear). Note the similarity to the illustration of opisthotonus (tetanus) on the back wall.[21]

Charcot thought of art as a crucial tool of the clinicoanatomic method. He used photos and drawings, many made by himself or his students, in his classes and conferences. He also drew outside the neurology domain, as a personal hobby. Like Duchenne, he is considered a key figure in the incorporation of photography to the study of neurological cases.[22]


Charcot's name is associated with many diseases and conditions including:[1]


One of Charcot's greatest legacies as a clinician is his contribution to the development of systematic neurological examination, correlating a set of clinical signs with specific lesions. This was made possible by his pioneering long-term studies of patients, coupled with microscopic and anatomic analysis derived from eventual autopsies.[25] This led to the first clear delination of various neurological diseases and classic description of them. For example, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.[26]

Charcot is just as famous for his influence on those who had studied with him:

External links

  • , Vol.37, No.1, (May 2009), pp.21-36.Australian Journal of Clinical and Experimental HypnosisAlvarado, C., "Nineteenth-Century Hysteria and Hypnosis: A Historical Note on Blanche Wittmann",
  • Bogousslavsky J, Paciaroni M (2010). "Did Jean-Martin Charcot contribute to stroke?" (PDF). Eur. Neurol. 64 (1): 27–32.  
  • Broussolle E, Poirier J, Clarac F, Barbara JG (April 2012). "Figures and institutions of the neurological sciences in Paris from 1800 to 1950. Part III: neurology" (PDF). Rev. Neurol. (Paris) 168 (4): 301–20.  
  • Clanet M (June 2008). "Jean-Martin Charcot. 1825 to 1893" (PDF). Int MS J 15 (2): 59–61.  
  • Ekbom K (January 1992). "The man behind the syndrome: Jean-Martin Charcot". J Hist Neurosci 1 (1): 39–45.  
  • Goetz CG (2009). "Chapter 15 Jean-Martin Charcot and the anatomo-clinical method of neurology". Handb Clin Neurol. Handbook of Clinical Neurology 95: 203–12.  
  • Goetz CG (March 2006). "Charcot in contemporary literature". J Hist Neurosci 15 (1): 22–30.  
  • Goetz CG (July 2007). "J.-M. Charcot and simulated neurologic disease: attitudes and diagnostic strategies". Neurology 69 (1): 103–9.  
  • Goetz CG (May 2010). "Shaking up the Salpetriere: Jean-Martin Charcot and mercury-induced tremor". Neurology 74 (21): 1739–42.  
  • Goetz CG, Chmura TA, Lanska DJ (May 2001). "Seminal figures in the history of movement disorders: Sydenham, Parkinson, and Charcot: Part 6 of the MDS-sponsored history of Movement Disorders exhibit, Barcelona, June 2000". Mov. Disord. 16 (3): 537–40.  
  • Goetz CG, Harter DH (October 2009). "Charcot and Pasteur: intersecting orbits in fin de siècle French medicine". J Hist Neurosci 18 (4): 378–86.  
  • Guillain, Georges (1959). J.-M. Charcot 1825–1893: His Life-His Work. Paul B. Hoeber, Inc. 
  • Hustvedt, Asti (2011). Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris. Bloomsbury. 
  • Rowland LP (March 2001). "How amyotrophic lateral sclerosis got its name: the clinical-pathologic genius of Jean-Martin Charcot". Arch. Neurol. 58 (3): 512–5.  
  • Teive HA, Almeida SM, Arruda WO, Sá DS, Werneck LC (June 2001). "Charcot and Brazil" (PDF). Arq Neuropsiquiatr 59 (2–A): 295–9.  
  • Teive HA, Arruda WO, Werneck LC (September 2005). "Rosalie: the Brazilian female monkey of Charcot" (PDF). Arq Neuropsiquiatr 63 (3A): 707–8.  
  • Teive HA, Munhoz RP, Barbosa ER (June 2007). "Little-known scientific contributions of J-M Charcot" (PDF). Clinics (Sao Paulo) 62 (3): 211–4.  
  • Teive HA, Zavala JA, Iwamoto FM, Sá D, Carraro H, Werneck LC (September 2001). "[Contributions of Charcot and Marsden to the development of movement disorders in the 19th and 20th centuries]". Arq Neuropsiquiatr (in Portuguese) 59 (3–A): 633–6.  

Further reading

  • Bogousslavsky J, ed. (2010). Following Charcot: a Forgotten History of Neurology and Psychiatry. Frontiers of Neurology and Neuroscience. S Karger Pub.  
  • Charcot JM (1889) [1878]. ]Leçons sur les maladies du système nerveux [Clinical Lectures on Diseases of the Nervous System 3 (Thomas Savill, translator ed.). London: The New Sydenham Society. Retrieved 21 October 2010. 
  • Goetz CG (1987). Charcot, the Clinician. New York: Raven Press.  
  • Goetz CG, Bonduelle M, Gelfand T (1995). Charcot: Constructing Neurology. Oxford University Press.  
  • Harris, J.C., "A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière", Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol.62, No.5, (May 2005), pp. 470–472.
  • Jeste DV, Friedman JH (2007). Psychiatry for Neurologists. Springer.  
  • Kushner HI (2000). A Cursing Grain? The Histories of Tourette Syndrome. Harvard University Press.  
  • Lamberty GJ (2007). Understanding Somatization in the Practice of Clinical Neuropsychology. Minneapolis Oxford University.  
  • Mills WJ (2003). Exploring Polar Frontiers: a Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO.  
  • Moskowitz BG, ed. (1998). The Princeton Symposium on the Legacy and Future of Social Cognition. Cengage Learning. p. 170.  
  • Murphy G (1999). An Historical Introduction to Modern Ssychology. Routledge.  
  • Plotnik R, Kouyoumdjian H (2010). Introduction to Psychology. Cengage Learning.  
  • Shorter E (1997). A History of Psychiatry. John Wiley & Sons.  


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Enerson, Ole Daniel. "Jean-Martin Charcot". Who Named It?. Retrieved 13 October 2008. 
  2. ^ Lamberty (2007), p. 5
  3. ^ Teive HA, Chien HF, Munhoz RP, Barbosa ER (December 2008). "Charcot's contribution to the study of Tourette's syndrome". Arq Neuropsiquiatr 66 (4): 918–21.  
  4. ^ Bogousslavsky (2010), p. 7
  5. ^ a b Kushner (2000), p. 11
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Jean-Martin Charcot". A Science Odyssey: People and Discoveries. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). 1998. Retrieved 13 October 2008. 
  7. ^ Siegel IM (Summer 2000). "Charcot and Duchenne: Of mentors, pupils, and colleagues". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 43 (4): 541–7.  
  8. ^ Haas LF (October 2001). "Jean Martin Charcot (1825–93) and Jean Baptiste Charcot (1867–1936)". J. Neurol. Neurosurg. Psychiatr. 71 (4): 524.  
  9. ^ Tan SY, Shigaki D (May 2007). "Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–1893): pathologist who shaped modern neurology". Singapore Med J 48 (5): 383–4.  
  10. ^ Charcot JM (1868). "Histologie de la sclérose en plaques". Gazette des hopitaux, Paris (in Français) 41: 554–55. 
  11. ^ Enersen, Ole Daniel. "Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease |". Retrieved October 16, 2008. 
  12. ^ a b c Lees AJ (September 2007). "Unresolved issues relating to the shaking palsy on the celebration of James Parkinson's 250th birthday". Mov. Disord. 22 (Suppl 17): S327–34.  
  13. ^ Jean-Martin Charcot and Movement Disorders: Neurological Legacies to the 21st Century
  14. ^ Jeste (2007) p.4
  15. ^ Charcot (1889), p. 85
  16. ^ Bogousslavsky (2010), p. 108
  17. ^ Shorter (1997), p. 134
  18. ^ a b c d Bogousslavsky J, Walusinski O, Veyrunes D (2009). "Crime, hysteria and belle époque hypnotism: the path traced by Jean-Martin Charcot and Georges Gilles de la Tourette" (PDF). Eur. Neurol. 62 (4): 193–9.  
  19. ^ Plotnik (2012) p. 170.
  20. ^ a b Goetz (1995), p. 211
  21. ^ The identities of each of the thirty separate individuals that are represented in this composite (1887) presentation painting by Pierre Aristide, André Brouillet (1857-1914) have been clearly identified at p.471 of Harris, J.C., "A Clinical Lesson at the Salpêtrière", Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol.62, No.5, (May 2005), pp.470-472.
  22. ^ Goetz CG (April 1991). "Visual art in the neurologic career of Jean-Martin Charcot". Arch. Neurol. 48 (4): 421–5.  
  23. ^ "Souques-Charcot gerodema". 
  24. ^ Jurado I, Andreu X, Martin J, et al. (1997). "Biliary infarct (Charcot-Gombault necrosis): CT and pathologic features". J Comput Assist Tomogr 21 (1): 106–7.  
  25. ^ Goetz (1995), p. 103
  26. ^ See:
    • Charcot, J. M. (1874) "De la sclérose latérale amyotrophique," Le Progrès médical, series 1, 2 : 325-327, 341-342, 453-455.
    • Jean Martin Charcot with Désiré Magloire Bourneville, ed., Oeuvres complètes de J.M. Charcot (Complete works of J.M. Charcot), (Paris, France: Fèlix Alcan, 1894), , volume 2, "Douzième Leçon: Amyotrophies spinales deutéropathiques, — Sclérose latérale amyotrophique." (Twelfth lesson: Deuteropathic spinal amyotrophies — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), pp. 234-248 ; "Treizième Leçon: De la sclérose latérale amyotrophique. Symptomatologie." (Thirteenth lesson: On amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Symptomology), pp. 249-266.
  27. ^ Black, KJ (22 March 2006). Tourette Syndrome and Other Tic Disorders. eMedicine. Retrieved on 27 June 2006.
    * Enerson, Ole Daniel. Georges Albert Édouard Brutus Gilles de la Tourette. Who Named It? Retrieved on 28 June 2006.
  28. ^ Goetz (1995), p. 208
  29. ^ Shorter (1997), pp. 84–86
  30. ^ Gardner (1999), p. 145
  31. ^ Bogousslavsky (2010), p. 120
  32. ^ Gardner (1999), p. 389
  33. ^ Goetz (1987), p. 115
  34. ^ Bogousslavsky (2010), p. 203
  35. ^ Goetz (1987), p. 116
  36. ^ Goetz (1987), p. 117
  37. ^ Scott AO (16 May 2013). "Doctor and patient: a gothic love story". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 December 2013. 
  38. ^ Olsen M (21 May 2013). "'"French actress-singer Soko finds quiet showcase in 'Augustine. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 December 2013. 
  39. ^ Hierons R (1993). "Charcot and his visits to Britain". BMJ 307 (6919): 1589–91.  
  40. ^ "J.M. Charcot correspondence and draft 1870-1892". US National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 1 January 2014. 
  41. ^ Mills (2003), p. 135
  42. ^ "Charcot Awards". 2015-03-10. Retrieved 2015-03-17. 
  43. ^ a b c Kundu AK (September 2004). "Charcot in medical eponyms". J Assoc Physicians India 52: 716–8.  
  44. ^ Goetz CG (August–September 2009). "Jean-Martin Charcot and movement disorders: neurological legacies to the 21st century". International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society. Retrieved July 15, 2013. 
  45. ^ Jeste (2007) p.8


See also

  • "In the last analysis, we see only what we are ready to see, what we have been taught to see. We eliminate and ignore everything that is not a part of our prejudices".[43]
  • "To learn how to treat a disease, one must learn how to recognize it. The diagnosis is the best trump in the scheme of treatment.[43]
  • "Symptoms, then, are in reality nothing but a cry from suffering organs."[43]
  • "If you do not have a proven treatment for certain illnesses, bid [sic] your time, do what you can, but do not harm your patients."[44]
  • "... perfectly legitimate pathological phenomena, in which the will of the patient counts for nothing, absolutely nothing"; in reference to the clinical features of hysteria".[45]


The Charcot Award is given every two years by the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation for a lifetime of outstanding research into the understanding or treatment of multiple sclerosis.[42]

Charcot Island in Antarctica was discovered by his son, Jean-Baptiste Charcot, who named the Island in honor of his father.[41]

A collection of his correspondence is held at the United States National Library of Medicine.[40]

Charcot appears, along with Maria Skłodowska-Curie (Madame Curie) and Charcot's patient "Blanche" (Marie Wittman), in Per Olov Enquist's 2004 novel The Book about Blanche and Marie (English translation, 2006, ISBN 1-58567-668-3). He also appears in the 2005 novel by Sebastian Faulks, Human Traces, and in Axel Munthe's 1929 autobiographical novel The Story of San Michele. In a letter to the New York Times Book Review of January 18, 1931, however, Charcot's son wrote that "Dr Munthe never was trained by my father." And in his 2008 biography of Munthe (ISBN 978-1-84511-720-7), Bengt Jangfeldt says that 'Charcot is not mentioned in a single letter of Axel's out of the hundreds that have been preserved from his Paris years.' Distorted views of Charcot as harsh and tyrannical have arisen from some sources that mistakenly identify Munthe as Charcot's assistant and take Munthe's autobiographical novel[1] as a factual memoir. In fact, Munthe was just a medical student among hundreds of others. Munthe's most direct contact with Charcot was when he helped a young female patient "escape" from a ward of the hospital and took her into his home. Charcot threatened to advise the police and ordered that Munthe not be allowed on the wards of the hospital again.[39]

A 2012 French historical drama film, Augustine, is about a love affair between Charcot and a patient. The New York Times film review describes Charcot as "a complicated figure in retrospect, at once a charlatan and a pioneer, a monster and a modernizer".[37][38]

A song "Let Yourself Go" from The Alan Parsons Project's Freudiana is dedicated to Doctor Charcot.

Charcot argued vehemently against the widespread medical and popular prejudice that hysteria was rarely found in men, presenting several cases of traumatic male hysteria.[34] He taught that due to this prejudice these "cases often went unrecognised, even by distinguished doctors"[35] and could occur in such models of masculinity as railway engineers or soldiers. Charcot's analysis, in particular his view of hysteria as an organic condition which could be caused by trauma, paved the way for understanding neurological symptoms arising from industrial-accident or war-related traumas.[36]

After Charcot's death, Freud and Janet wrote articles on his importance.[31] The Charcot-Janet school, which formed from the work of Charcot and his student Janet, contributed greatly to knowledge of double and multiple personality, before being extended by Morton Prince's Dissociation of a personality (1905).[32] The judgment of Charcot's work on hysteria is influenced by a significant shift in diagnostic criteria and understanding of hysteria which occurred in the decades following his death.[33] The historical perspective on Charcot's work on hysteria has also been distorted by viewing him as a precursor of Freud (whose markedly different conception of hysteria was extensively addressed by feminist historians in the last decades of the 20th century).

Although by the 1870s, Charcot was France's best known physician, according to Edward Shorter, his ideas in psychiatry were refuted, and France did not recover for decades. Shorter wrote in his A History of Psychiatry that Charcot himself understood "almost nothing" about major psychiatric illness, and that he was "quite lacking in common sense and grandiosely sure of his own judgement". This perspective overlooks that Charcot never claimed to be practicing psychiatry or to be a psychiatrist, a field that was separately organized from neurology within France's educational and public health systems.[28] After his death, Shorter said the illness "hysteria" that Charcot described was claimed to be nothing more than an "artifact of suggestion",[29] however American psychologist Gardner Murphy referred to Charcot's position in French psychiatry and psychology as "prominent".[30]