Oskar Vogt

Oskar Vogt (April 6 1870 - July 30 1959 in Freiburg im Breisgau) was a German physician and neurologist. He was born in Husum - Schleswig-Holstein. Vogt studied medicine at Kiel and Jena, obtaining his doctorate from Jena in 1894.

Vogt was married to the French neurologist Cécile Vogt-Mugnier, whom he met in Paris while he was there working with Joseph Jules Dejerine and his wife, Augusta Marie Dejerine-Klumke (who collaborated with him). The Vogt couple also collaborated for a long period of time, usually with Cécile as the primary author.

Oskar founded an Institute für Hirnforschung (Institute for Brain research) in Berlin, Germany. There, he had students from many countries who went on to prominent careers including Korbinian Brodmann and Brockhaus.

As a clinician, Vogt used hypnotism (Stuckrade-Barre and Danek 2004) until 1903 and wrote papers on the topic. In particular, Vogt had an intense interest for localizing psychology.

Vogt has been misrepresented as having accepted the Nazis. It is true that he was the personal practitioner of the Krupp family (canon facturer in the Ruhr Area, Essen). Fritz Krupp supported him financially particularly when the Vogts, driven away by the Nazis (1937), had to move to Neustadt (Black Forest) and founded a new institute. In fact, Vogt was a socialist, involved with the factions led by Mme Fessard who knew him personally, and with the guesdist element of the French socialist party (Jules Guesde was at the far left wing of this party). He had never been a Communist, although he did interact with the Soviets on a number of occasions. They sent him several researchers, including N. V. Timofeev-Resovskij (whom Solzhenitsyn met in the Gulag). He helped to establish the brain institute in Moscow.

The Vogts had two daughters, both accomplished scientists in their own rights. Marthe Vogt (1903-2003) was a neuropharmacologist who became a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Professor at Cambridge. Marguerite Vogt (1913-2007) started as a developmental geneticist working in Drosophila, then moved to the US in 1950. She developed methods to culture poliovirus with Renato Dulbecco. She was a faculty member at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies where she worked on viral transformation and cellular immortalization of cancer cells.

Institutes and journals

Vogt was the editor of the prominent Journal für Neurologie and Psychologie published in German, French and English which made many of the most important contributions between the two World Wars. This later became The Journal für Hirnforschung.

Lenin's brain

In 1924, Vogt was one of the neurologists asked to consult on Lenin’s illness and was given his brain for histological study after Lenin’s death. Lenin's brain showed a great number of "giant cells", which Vogt saw as a sign of superior mental function. "The giant cells" were cortical pyramidal cells of unusual size. There were also particularities in layer 3.

In 1925 Vogt accepted an invitation to Moscow where he was assigned the establishment of an institute for brain research under the auspices of the health ministry in Moscow. In 1945 Lenin's brain was still in the Institute of Berlin. According to claims of two Belgians, L. Van Bogaert and A. Dewulf, the Soviets carried out a military operation specifically to retrieve the brain before the Americans obtained it, and succeeded in doing so. The brain is now at Moscow's Institute.


The contributions of the Vogts are of the first order as their work applies to several parts of the brain and had a considerable influence on international neurological sciences.


This was apparently the main concern of Oskar who tried to find a correlation between anatomy and psychology. There were previous works by Campbel, but the Vogts and their coworkers were really the founders of corticology (the study of the cortex). The Vogts imposed the distinction between iso- and allocortex. They also imposed rather rigidly the six-layer pattern (there were 5 for Meynert and 7 for Cajal) in affirming that this was the normal pattern. They were responsible for a number of cytoarchitectonic studies. One of their last students, Sanides, developed their notion of gradation.


Oskar made several presentations of his view of the thalamus in Paris. Oskar and Cécile further referred to the work of Constantin von Monakow in a series on the anatomy of mammals. This was not a seminal work.

The main contribution of the Vogts was La myelocytoarchitecture du thalamus du cercopithèque from Cécile alone (1909). The great contribution of Cécile has been that the partition of the lateral region (lateral mass) should rely on the territories (the spaces occupied) of the main afferents. She distinguished from back to front the lemnical radiation and a particular nucleus, in front of it the cerebellar (prelemniscal) radiation with another nucleus and more anteriorly the "lenticular" radiation. This system still describes the subdivision of the thalamus (Percheron, 1977, Percheron et al. 1996). Her paper was followed by Die cytoarchitechtonik des Zwishenhirns de Cercothipiteken from Friedmann (1911) traducing in cytoarchitectonic terms, her partition.

A paper published in common in 1941 (Thalamus studien I to III), devoted to the human thalamus, represented an important step in partitioning and naming thalamic parts. The anatomy of the thalamus from Hassler (one of their students) was published in 1959, the year of the death of Oskar. It is not known weither the master accepted the excessive partition and unnecessary complication of this work that was an atlas dedicated to stereotacticans. The paper of 1941 was much simpler.

Basal ganglia

The Vogts greatly contributed to the analysis of what is known today as the basal ganglia system. Their main interest was on the striatum, that after Foix and Nicolesco they proposed (1941) to name so. This was including the caudate nucleus, the putamen and the fundus. One of their students (Brockaus) made an abusive cytoarchitectonic parcellation.

Their study of human pathological cases led them to discover particular striatal diseases and to the fact that the central region (centre médian-parafasicular) was degenerating after striatal region, i.e. that there was a strong centralo-striatal connection.

The Vogt-Vogt syndrome, an extrapyramidal disturbance with double sided athetosis occurring in early childhood, is named after the couple.


  • Bentivoglio, M. (1998) Cortical structure and mental *Brodmann (Korbidian, 1868-1918)
  • Spengler, T.(1991) Lenins Hirn. Rowohlt. Translated as Lenin's Brain and published by Penguin books.
  • Stukrade-Barre, S and Danek, A. (2004) Oskar Vogt (1870-1959), hypnotist and brain researcher, husband of Cecile (1875-1962).Nerven arzt. 75: 1038-1041 (in German)
  • Bentivoglio, M. (1998) Cortical structures and mental skills. Oskar Vogt and the legacy of Brain Res. Bull. 97:291-296.

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