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Handb Clin Neurol. 2010;95:203-12. doi: 10.1016/S0072-9752(08)02115-5.

Chapter 15: Jean-Martin Charcot and the anatomo-clinical method of neurology.

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Department of Neurological Sciences and Pharmacology, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.


Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893) was the premier clinical neurologist of the 19th century. Charcot's research was anchored in the anatomo-clinical method, a two-part methodology that linked clinical signs with anatomical lesions. The first step of this method involved the careful documentation of clinical signs with longitudinal observation. At the time of death, the second step involved autopsy examination of the brain and spinal cord. With combined clinical and anatomical data, Charcot was able to suggest concrete clinical-anatomical correlations. This method helped to define the tracts and nuclei responsible for normal and abnormal neurological signs and was pivotal to a new classification of neurological diseases based on anatomy. The best-developed example of this method was Charcot's work with motor system degenerative disorders, specifically amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. These studies led to the international designation of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis as Charcot's disease. Other examples of the fruits of the anatomo-clinical method included several stroke syndromes and the linkage of specific signs to specific lesions in multiple sclerosis. The discipline fostered cortical localization theory, which moved neurologists away from the concept of the brain as a homogenous organ in preference to the concept that brain regions controlled specific motor, sensory and language functions. Charcot's attempts to apply his anatomo-clinical method to the knotty neurological diagnosis of hysteria led him to experiments and conclusions that drew criticism and even scorn from colleagues. These events tarnished Charcot's reputation at the close of his career. In the context of Charcot's extensive discoveries and lasting contributions, the anatomo-clinical method remains the anchor of modern neurological diagnosis and is Charcot's most important contribution to clinical neurology.

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