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Cécile and Oskar Vogt: the visionaries of modern neuroscience
  1. R Pearce

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    Edited by I Klatzo. Published by Springer Wien, 2002, pp 130, €76. ISBN 3-211-83798-1

    This slender volume sings the praises of two pioneers of modern day neuroscience, Cécile and Oskar Vogt. Replete with fascinating insights into the culture of medical and scientific thinking in Europe at the turn of the 20th century and abounding with the author’s personal reminiscences of the Vogts, this is an informative, if highly personally coloured, biographical sketch and appraisal of these two neuroscientists. We are treated to the first meeting of the Vogts in Paris and the course of their subsequent life long collaboration that follows, notably with the establishment of a brain research institute in Berlin under the patronage of the Kaiser and the Krupp family.

    We learn how the discrete localisation of brain function was studied employing physiological responses produced by cortical electrical stimulation in primates and, with Foerster, on the human brain, and then correlated with their coworker Brodmann’s meticulous descriptions of architectonic areas of cortex. Cécile worked on extrapyramidal disorders and subcortical anatomy, notably of the thalamus, describing the status marmoratus of cerebral palsy, as well as changes in these regions in Huntington’s disease. The term “pathoclisis” was coined, anticipating apoptosis and establishing also the concept of selective vulnerability, with clear descriptions of hippocampal pathology in hypoxia and changes in the pallidum in carbon monoxide poisoning. Some of the concepts of molecular genetics were anticipated, although there was a tendency to proliferate conceptual neologisms from the Greek.

    An amusing interlude arrives after the death of Lenin, with an invitation to Moscow to study Lenin’s brain and thereby provide indisputable confirmation of Lenin’s genius under the microscope. This was the result of earlier work on the “elite brain”, in an attempt to correlate cortical cytoarchitecture with behaviour. In this way, Oskar Vogt became scientific director of the Brain Research Institute in Moscow. Difficulties ensued during the Nazi era, which receive lengthy discussion, with politics both from within and without the Berlin institute leading to dethronement and banishment to the periphery. The description of the later years, in a long section entitled “personal memories”, becomes increasingly personal, gossipy, and even sentimental. The careers of other accomplished neuropathologists, such as Bielschowsky, Hassler, and Olszewski are touched upon en passant in this rather idiosyncratic volume that is primarily of historical interest. The book is richly illustrated with photographic portraits, but in this, as with the text, the social and political angle is better treated than the scientific details of the scientific work.

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