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J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry 73:81 doi:10.1136/jnnp.73.1.81
  • Neurological stamp

Constantin von Economo (1876–1931)

Figure

Baron Constantin von Economo was the first Austrian to obtain a pilot's diploma. He served aviation with distinction and supported preparations for the International Aviation Congress held in Vienna. Economo, of Greek parentage, was brought up in Austrian Trieste. He enrolled in engineering school, but after two years began his medical training in Vienna and received his medical degree in 1901. In 1906, Economo became an assistant to Julius Wagner Jauregg, psychiatrist in Vienna. Wagner Jauregg received the Nobel Prize in 1927 for his use of malaria inoculation to induce fever in patients with syphilitic dementia paralytica.

In his early studies, Economo concentrated on the anatomy and physiology of the midbrain, pons, and trigeminal nerve pathway. In 1930 he described (with L Horn) the upper temporal lobe on the left as usually larger than on the right. A major contribution of his was The Cytoarchitecture of the Cerebral Cortex in Adult Man published in 1925 but he is eponymously known for his description of encephalitis lethargica, also known as Von Economo's Disease.1 As well as the clinical features, Economo also discussed the pathology and histology. The disease first appeared in Romania in 1915 and raged globally until 1927. Encephalitis lethargica was once a major cause of post-encephalitic Parkinson's Disease, but there have been no new cases for years. The last reported case was in 1940, though the clinical sequelae were seen for years after that.

Economo was a man of independent means. He rejected the chair of psychiatry when von Jauregg retired in 1928. In 1976 on the centenary of Economo's birth a stamp was issued by Austria to honour him. (Stanley Gibbons no. 1765; Scott no. 1040). Austria also philatelically honoured Wagner Jauregg, in 1957 on the centenary of his birth.

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