Jean Martin Charcot

Jean Martin Charcot

Charcot, Jean Martin, 1825-93, French neurologist. He developed at the Salpětrière in Paris the greatest clinic of his time for diseases of the nervous system. He made many important observations on these diseases, described the characteristics of tabes dorsalis, differentiated multiple sclerosis and paralysis agitans, and wrote on many neurological subjects. Charcot's insight into the nature of hysteria is credited by Sigmund Freud, his pupil, as having contributed to the early psychoanalytic formulations on the subject.

See biography by G. Guillain (1959); study by A. R. Owen (1971).

Jean-Martin Charcot (29 November 182516 August 1893) was a French neurologist and professor of anatomical pathology. His work greatly influenced the developing fields of neurology and psychology. He was called "the Napoleon of the neuroses".


Born in Paris, France, Europe, Charcot worked and taught at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital for thirty three years. His reputation as an instructor drew students from all over Europe. In 1882, he established a neurology clinic at Salpêtrière, which was the first of its kind in Europe.

Charcot's primary focus was neurology. He named and was the first to describe multiple sclerosis. He was also the first to describe a disorder known as Charcot joint or Charcot arthropathy, a degeneration of joint surfaces resulting from loss of proprioception. He researched the functions of different parts of the brain and the role of arteries in cerebral hemorrhage.

Charcot was also one of the first to describe Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT). The announcement was made simultaneously with Pierre Marie of France (his resident) and Howard Henry Tooth of England. The disease is also sometimes called peroneal muscular atrophy.

In 1861 and 1862, Charcot, with Alfred Vulpian, added more symptoms to James Parkinson's clinical description and then subsequently attached the name Parkinson's disease to the syndrome.

Charcot's most enduring work was on hypnosis and hysteria. He believed that hysteria was a neurological disorder caused by hereditary problems in the nervous system. He used hypnosis to induce a state of hysteria in patients and studied the results, and was single-handedly responsible for changing the French medical community's opinion about the validity of hypnosis (it was previously rejected as Mesmerism).

Charcot's works about hypnosis and his public demonstrations of "hypnotized" persons in an auditorium were sharply criticized by Hippolyte Bernheim, a leading neurologist of the time, and by Charcot's former scientific assistant Axel Munthe in his famous memoirs The Story of San Michele.



Charcot is just as famous for his students: Sigmund Freud, Joseph Babinski, Pierre Janet, William James, Albert Londe, Charles-Joseph Bouchard, Georges Gilles de la Tourette, Axel Munthe, and Alfred Binet. Charcot bestowed the eponym for Tourette syndrome in honor of his student, Georges Gilles de la Tourette.


Charcot appears, along with Maria Skłodowska-Curie (Madame Curie) and Charcot's patient "Blanche" (Marie Wittman), in Per Olov Enquist's 2004 novel The Book about Blanche and Marie (English translation, 2006, ISBN 1-58567-668-3).

He also appears in the 2005 novel by Sebastian Faulks, Human Traces.

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