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Int Ophthalmol. 2007 Apr-Jun;27(2-3):67-79. Epub 2007 Apr 28.

Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada disease: inquiry into the genesis of a disease name in the historical context of Switzerland and Japan.

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Inflammatory and Retinal Eye Diseases, Centre for Ophthalmic Specialized Care (COS), La Source Avenue des Bergières 2, Lausanne 1004, Switzerland.



To delineate the historical steps associated with the genesis of the name and the definition of Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada (VKH) disease.


A bibliographical review of the major publications that were relevant to the original development of the name of the clinical entity known today as Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada disease, in the historical context of the early 20th century.


Three distinct time periods can be considered to be important in terms of providing a historical perspective on VKH disease. Given that the cutaneous manifestations of VKH disease are so characteristic, these could not have been missed even before the actual clinical entity of VKH was recognized in the early 20th century. Indeed, several authors, including the Arabic doctor Mohammad-al-Ghâfiqî in the 12th century as well as Jacobi, Nettelship and Tay in the 19th century, described poliosis, neuralgias and hearing disorders. Many of these cases were probably due to sympathetic ophthalmia, but some were clearly VKH cases. The second phase is characterized by the surge of articles that appeared early in the 20th century that defined the disease more precisely. A number of these authors subsequently became associated with the disease name, the first being Alfred Vogt from Switzerland, followed by Japanese researchers. Yoshizo Koyanagi was in fact not the first Japanese author to describe the disease; this honor goes to the first Japanese Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Tokyo, Dr. Jujiro Komoto, who published in a German language journal, Klinische Monatsblätter für Augenheilkunde in 1911. Yoshizo Koyanagi published his first report in the Nippon Ganka Gakkai Zasshi 3 years later, in 1914, but it was a much later article, one published in 1929, that definitively associated his name with the disease. In this review article, Koyanagi reported 16 cases, of which six were his own cases, that beautifully illustrate the natural course of the disease. In this same time period, Einosuke Harada, in an article published in Nippon Ganka Gakkai Zasshi in 1926 that was based on several case studies, comprehensively described a syndrome that included (1) a prodromal phase of malaise and meningeal irritation; (2) bilateral uveitis of diverse intensity; (3) bilateral retinal detachments spontaneously resolving; (4) integumentary changes; (5) lymphocytosis of the spinal fluid; (6) dysacousia. It is now accepted that Vogt-Koyanagi disease and the syndrome described by Harada are one entity with a diverse clinical spectrum bearing the universally accepted name of Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada disease. The third phase and most recent phase is characterized by the rapid progress made in terms of knowledge of the physiopathology of the disease, primarily due to the development of immunological methods. The evidence accumulated to date clearly points towards an autoimmune Th1 disease directed against proteins associated with choroidal melanin. Other analytical techniques, such as indocyanine green angiography, have enabled researchers to monitor more closely the primary lesional process at the level of the choroid, and standardized diagnostic criteria have been generated in the recent past.


Those who earn scientific merit in clinical medicine are the ones who are able to visualize an overview based on the synthesis of 'new' medical facts that have been made available, usually reported singly by several, unassociated authors concomitantly. This is certainly the case for Yoshizo Koyanagi and Einosuke Harada. Conversely, Alfred Vogt was primarily lucky in that he encountered and subsequently precisely described the first case in the literature.

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