Jean-Martin Charcot

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Charcot, Jean-Martin


Born Nov. 29, 1825, in Paris; died Aug. 16,1893, in the Hotel Morvan, Lac des Settons, Nièvre Department. French physician; one of the founders of modern neuropathology and psychotherapy. Member of the Académie de Médecine (1872) and Académie des Sciences (1883).

After graduating from the faculty of medicine of the University of Paris in 1848, Charcot worked as a physician. In 1860 he was named professor of neuropathology at the University of Paris, where he was also (from 1872) professor of pathological anatomy. Beginning in 1862, he worked for thirty years at the Hospital of the Salpêtrière, and in 1882 he was named director of its neurological clinic.

From the 1850’s to the 1870’s, Charcot’s work dealt with various problems of clinical medicine, including chronic pneumonias, cirrhosis of the liver, and diseases of the skin. He was among the first to describe rheumatoid polyarthritis (1853), and he also described intermittent claudication (1858). Charcot discovered the existence of sharp transparent octahedral structures that were later, in 1878, found by the German physician E. von Leyden to be associated with eosinophilia in bronchial asthma, and they were called Charcot-Leyden crystals. Charcot also noted the diverse clinicomorphological manifestations of pulmonary tuberculosis. He described the tremor of the hands, distinctive paresis of the lower extremities, and increased electric conductivity of the skin in thyrotoxicosis.

After 1862, Charcot dealt mainly with nervous disorders. Working in the area of clinical anatomy, he sought to establish the connection between clinical symptoms and the localization of structural changes in the nervous system. Charcot identified a number of diseases, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, as independent nosological forms. He described the symptoms of various other diseases, such as syringomyelia, parkinsonism, and multiple sclerosis.

The study of inherited nervous disorders was initiated by Charcot in the 1880’s. He proved the existence of male hysteria, thus refuting the earlier belief that hysteria was caused by disorders of the uterus. On the basis of his study of hypnotism, Charcot established the part played by suggestion in the onset of hysterical disturbances, many of which he described. He was the first to make extensive use of hypnosis in the treatment of hysteria. A number of Charcot’s works deal with the psychology of creativity in the arts. A hydrotherapeutic method was named after Charcot (the Charcot shower).

Charcot’s neurological clinic—with its museum of pathological anatomy, laboratory, and special rooms that housed drawings, sculptures, and photographs—became an international training center for medical students. Members of the scientific school founded by Charcot included J. Babinski, J. Wagner von Jau-regg, J. Déjerine, P. Janet, G. Marinescu, and P. Marie. Charcot founded several journals, including Archives de neurologie (1880). He was president and a member of various French and foreign academies, universities, and scientific societies. A peninsula in Antarctica was named after Charcot by his son, J.-B. Charcot.


Oeuvres complètes, vols. 1–9. Paris, 1885–90.
In Russian translation:
Bolezni nervnoi sistemy. St. Petersburg, 1876.
Poliklinicheskie lektsii, fascs. 1–2. St. Petersburg, 1889–90.


Liubimov, A. A. Professor Sharko: Nauchno-biograficheskii etiud. St. Petersburg, 1894.
Bekhterev, V. M. “K vospominaniiam o Charcot.” Sovremennaia psikhonevrologiia, 1925, no. 8, pp. 14–17.
Arkhangel’skii, G. V. Istoriia nevrologii ot istokov do XX v. Moscow, 1965.
Guillain, G. J.-M. Charcot, 1825–1893: His Life, His Work. New York, 1959.


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