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Brodmann’s cortical maps
  1. J M S Pearce
  1. 304 Beverley Road, Anlaby, East Yorkshire HU10 7BG, UK; jmspearcefreenet.co.uk

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    Vicq d’Azyr, a physician and artist, described the brain’s convolutions in 1786, noting differences in morphology in other animals. Magendie had written similarly.

    Early attempts to correlate the cerebral anatomy to function by observed neurological deficits began in the 1820s, the result of the work of Franz Gall,1 Bouillaud, Robert Todd, Rolando, and many others (references in).2 Pierre Gratiolet and Francois Leuret mapped the folds and fissures of the cerebral cortex, and named the frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes.

    It was Korbinian Brodmann (1868–1918) who refined nomenclature by numbering discrete cortical areas in maps—scorned with arguable justification by Henry Head.

    Brodmann was born at Liggersdorf, Hohenzollern. He qualified at Freiburg in 1895. An attack of diphtheria halted his progress but he became Assistant to the Neurological Clinic at Alexanderbad im Fichtelberg, whose chief was the famed and influential Oskar Vogt, who in 1898 created the Neurobiologisches Universitäts-Laboratorium in Berlin. Brodmann briefly followed Vogt to Berlin and then studied pathology in Leipzig, obtaining his MD in 1898 with the thesis: A contribution to the understanding of chronic ependymal sclerosis. He worked at the University Psychiatric Clinic in Jena, under Binswanger and later at Frankfurt-am Main from 1900 to 1901. There he was stimulated by Carl Weigert, who was developing cellular staining techniques, and by Nissl, Edinger, and Alzheimer—major influences. In late 1901 Brodmann returned to Vogt in Berlin where he met Bielschowsky, who developed silver impregnation of nerve fibres. Between 1903 and 1908 he published seven papers5; many concerned with the comparative cytoarchitectonics of mammalian cortex. Vogt suggested to Brodmann that he systematically studied the cells of the cerebral cortex, using sections stained with the new method of Franz Nissl (1860–1919). However, the Berlin Medical Faculty rejected his “habilitation” thesis on the pro-simian cortex and his major research was performed despite serious lack of funding from Berlin University.

    He described the different cytoarchitectonic structure of the gyri and showed that the human cortex is organised anatomically in the same way in man and other mammals. The cortex consisted of six layers, and, on this basis, he devised his numeric system for referring to different cortical areas. This culminated in his magnum opus in 1909, Vergleichende lokalisationslehre der grosshirnrinde (localisation in the cerebral hemispheres: a comparative study), which described 52 discrete cortical areas. He defined cytoarchitectonics as

    “The localization of the individual histological elements, their layering, and their parcellation in the adult brain.”

    Although there were other investigators of cytoarchitectonics,7,8 Brodmann’s maps and, especially, his numerical system attached to cytoarchitectonics were widely accepted; they were his major contribution. He had studied 64 different mammalian species. However, he faced difficulties, observing:

    “First and foremost we still lack clear criteria for the recognition of anatomically equivalent cellular elements…There has been occasional talk of ‘sensory cells’ located in particular regions, or of sensorial ‘special cells’. People have invented acoustic or optical special cells and even a ‘memory’ cell, and have not shied away from the fantastic ‘psychic cell’.”

    This, he stoutly rejected, concluding, “Functional localisation without the lead of anatomy is utterly impossible.”

    Oskar Vogt described Brodmann as having “broad scientific interests, a good gift of observation and great diligence in widening his knowledge”. His interests extended to neurology, psychiatry, physiology, zoology, and anthropology. He was described as “an intense and earnest man, reserved to the point of timidity, but could flare, on occasion, into a temper”,9 possibly frustrated by his inability to secure a permanent job. Not until 1916, aged 48, did Brodmann obtain this security. He had left Berlin in 1910 to work with Gaupp at Tübingen, where he was made titular professor in 1913. Finally, in 1918, he accepted an invitation from Munich to take the Chair of the Topographical Histological Department at the research centre for psychiatry. He died in 191810 of septicaemia complicating pneumonia.

    In 1919, Cecile Vogt described over 200 cortical areas and six years later von Economo and Koskinas revised the nomenclature.

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