Dr Charles-Edward Brown-Sequard (1817-1894) taught us through eloquent experiments what happens following hemisection of the spinal cord. He was a true internationalist, both in his origins and in his roving existence; he traveled frequently from one country to another, spanning 3 continents.
Brown-Sequard's father, an American seaman from Philadelphia, married Charlotte Sequard, who was of Mauritian-French descent. Their son Charles-Edward (Edouard) Brown was born in 1817, by which time his father was lost to sea, leaving his mother with no estate. At 21, the young Brown left with his mother for Paris. He originally held literary aspirations, but soon switched to medicine. He was supported by his mother, who maintained a boarding house. When his mother died in 1842, he added her name to his own, thereon becoming BrownSequard.
Graduating in 1846 from Ecole de Medecine in Paris, Brown-Sequard devoted himself to the pursuit of physiology. His career was marked by frequent and profound changes. In 1852 he left for New York, and then returned to France in 1853. The next year Brown-Sequard returned to Mauritius to study cholera. Also in 1854, he became a professor at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, only to return to Paris in 1855. In December 1859, he was appointed to the National Hospital, Queen Square, London. Afterward, he worked at Harvard, in New York and Geneva, and finally in 1878, succeeded Claude Bernard as the Chair of Experimental Medicine at the College de France. Brown-Sequard would remain at the College de France until the end of his life, and eventually became a French citizen.
In 1849, his legendary work on the transverse section of the spinal cord and the features of Brown-Sequard syndrome were summarized: ". . . as regards anesthesia and paralysis, three different groups of symptoms may be observed, according to the place of the alteration in a lateral half of the cerebro-spinal axis.... below the decussation of the pyramids, a lesion in the spinal cord produces paralysis on the same side and anesthesia on the opposite side...." Some of Brown-Sequard's other notable contributions include his work on the sympathetic system, epilepsy, infectious disease, endocrine glands, and vasomotor changes in pulmonary circulation. In 1856, he studied the effects of extirpation of the adrenal glands in animals, considered to be landmark studies in endocrine pathology. To demonstrate his devotion to his work, he prepared extracts of various endocrine glands and testicles and tried them on himself.
Brown-Sequard died in 1894 following a stroke.
Accepted for publication April 1, 1999.
From the Division of Pathology, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The author acknowledges that the general biographical overview presented does not necessarily include all of the accomplishments or achievements associated with the person discussed. Dr Jay welcomes comments from readers concerning the "A Portrait in History" section. Reprints not available from the author.
Copyright College of American Pathologists Aug 1999
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