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Neurosurgery. 2008 Oct;63(4):623-8; discussion 238. doi: 10.1227/01.NEU.0000327693.86093.3F.

Who discovered the sylvian fissure?

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  • 1Department of Neurosurgery, Niguarda Ca' Granda Hospital, Milan, Italy.


Cerebral convolutions were unknown until the 17th century. A constant sulcus was not recognized until the mid-1600s; it was named "the fissure of Sylvius," after the person who had always been considered as the one who discovered it. It is commonly asserted that the first description of the lateral scissure was made by Caspar Bartholin, who attributed its discovery to Sylvius. However, this was not actually the case, as Caspar Bartholin died in 1629, whereas Sylvius started studying medicine in 1632. The description could have been made either by Caspar Bartholin's son Thomas or by Sylvius himself. Irrespective of the description's author, the key to the history of the lateral fissure is that it was first identified by Fabrici d'Acquapendente in 1600, 40 years before Sylvius' description. In one of the 300 colored plates (Tabulae Pictae) by Fabrici, the lateral fissure is perfectly depicted, as are the temporal convolutions. Therefore, even if it was an accidental discovery, Fabrici should be the one noted as having discovered the fissure. This article ends with a short history of the plates. They were painted in oil on paper and were thought to further a great work, the Theatrum Totius Animalis Fabricae, which was begun in 1591 and never completed or published. Only the colored illustrations of this project remain. These plates were forgotten for more than 200 years, until they were rediscovered by Giuseppe Sterzi in 1909. They are among the best examples of anatomic iconography in terms of innovation, accuracy, and artistic accomplishment.

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