torsion spasm

Edward Flatau

Edward Flatau

Born on December 27 1868
Birth place Płock, Poland
Died on June 7 1932
Place of death Warsaw, Poland

Edward Flatau was a Polish neurologist. His work greatly impacted the developing field of neurology. He established neurobiologic and neuropathological sciences in Poland. He published a human brain atlas in 1894, wrote a fundamental book on migraines (1912), established the localization principle of long fibres in the spinal cord (1893), with Sterling (1911) published an early paper on progressive torsion spasm in children and suggested that the disease has a genetic component.


He went to medical school at the University of Moscow from 1886, being greatly influenced by the psychiatrist Sergei Sergeievich Korsakoff (1854-1900) and the neurologist Alexis Jakovlevich Kozhevnikof (1836-1902). Flatau became a medical doctor in 1892 and spent the years 1893 to 1899 in Berlin in the laboratories of Emanuel Mendel (1839-1907), Wilhelm von Waldeyer-Hartz (1836-1921), Alfred Goldscheider (1858-1935), and Ernst Viktor von Leyden (1832-1910).

Life and work

Brain atlas and spinal cord

In 1894, at the age of 25 he wrote influential Atlas of the human brain and the course of the nerve-fibres which was published in German, English, French, Russian, and in 1896 in Polish, based on long-exposure photographs of fresh brain sections (up to 10 minutes for flat and 30 minutes for uneven surfaces, by means of small diaphragms). The Atlas was published in German, English, Russian, French and Polish. In a review, Sigmund Freud wrote: The plates with their clarity deserve to be called excellent educational material, suitable as an utterly reliable reference. A schematic plate in the beginning gives an overview of our knowledge on the fibre pathways in the CNS, incorporating the accounts of Mendel, Bechterew and Edinger and continuing with the differing views on the structure of nervous tissue of Golgi and Ramo´n y Cajal. The price of the work is minimal if one considers its completeness and beauty. The author and publisher deserve thanks from the medical community for this valuable work.

Flatau's Law

With the Berlin neurobiologist Johannes Gad he performed experimental work on dogs and criticised Bastian-Bruns Law concerning the loss of function following spinal cord injury (1893).

On the basis of numerous clinical spinal cord surgeries, experiments and subsequent observations he discovered that the "greater the length of the fibres in the spinal cord the closer they are situated to the periphery" (Flatau's Law). He provided evidence for the laminar arrangement of spinal pathways. . He also described the fifth, seventh and eighth cranial nerves, and carefully outlined their nuclei. The paper on this topic Das Gesetz der excentrischen Lagerung der langen Bahnen im Rückenmark was published in 1897. For this work he received Ph.D. in medical sciences in Moscow in 1899 (dissertation "Zakon ekscentriczeskago raspolozenia dlinnych putiej w spinnom mózgu").

Early proponent of neuron theory

In 1895 Flatau became interested in neuron theory recently developed by Ramón y Cajal and Waldeyer and became one of its proponents. In several publications he tried to establish unity between physiology and anatomy of neuron. Together with Alfred Goldscheider he worked on the structure of nerve cells and their changes under mechanical, thermal and toxic influences. They published results of their experiments in 1897 and 1898 in Fortschritte der Medizin and Gazeta Lekarska which were subsequently published as special monograph. They state that the character of changes in neuron cells could provide information about the type of influences acting on them. This work, in which the normal and pathologic anatomy of the Vth, VIIth and VIIIth (cochlear) cranial nerves was included, created much discussion and was adversely criticized by Nissl, who opposed the neuron theory.

Neurology and early human genetics

Flatau and Wladyslaw Sterling in 1911 published an early paper on progressive torsion spasm in children the same year as Ziehen and Oppenheim. Unlike Oppenheim's this paper suggested that the disease has genetic component.

In 1927 Flatau, independently of Emil Redlich in Vienna, described the first cases of encephalomyelitis epidemica disseminata (Flatau-Redlich disease). Flatau was convinced that this illness is caused by virus which was latter confirmed by Mergulis. Flatau described in detail Schilder disease and introduced its name encephalitis periaxialis diffusa.

Migraine and headaches

In 1912 he published in German and Polish the first modern monograph about migraines. This book was reprinted in 2007, 95 years after its original publication, and is still frequently referenced in scientific literature. In a review of the historical background of general aspects of the headaches, Isler and Rose say, "His unique monograph of 1912, Die Migrane, contains a thorougly structured survey of most earlier authors, precise clinical observations, a critical evaluation of pathophysiology, and uncritical opinions on treatment, including arsenic cures.

Contribution to Polish science

By 1899 Flatau had established a name for himself both in Germany and abroad and returned to Poland during that year. Flatau was closely associated with attempts to re-establish Polish science during and after Russian occupation. After return he formed private microscopy laboratory at his apartments in Warsaw and worked in Warsaw hospitals as consultant. In 1911 he established a neurological laboratory in the Warsaw Psychologic Society and he became, in 1913, the first head of the Department of Neurobiology of Warsaw Scientific Society (Warszawskie Towarzystwo Naukowe) and from 1919 head of the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology which was then part of the Warsaw Scientific Society. In 1904 he becomes head of neurology in "Na Czystem" Hospital in Warsaw.

For many years he shared his responsibilities as experimentalist and neurologist between the laboratory and the hospital. He had large private practice. He was influential in establishing Polish medical periodicals "Neurologia Polska" and "Warszawskie Czasopismo Lekarskie". He supported establishment of Neurological and Psychiatry Section of Warsaw Medical Society, had many outstanding students, excellent organizer.

He died in 1932, the same year as two other notable Polish neurologists; Samuel Goldflam and Joseph Jules François Félix Babinski (Polish-French neurologist).


  • Edward Flatau and Alfred Goldscheider: Normale und pathologische Anatomie der Nervenzellen: auf Grund der neueren Forschungen, Berlin, H. Kornfeld, 1898, 140 pages.
  • Atlas of the human brain, and the course of the nerve-fibres, by Edward Flatau, with a preface by E. Mendel. Berlin, S. Karger, 1894. 25 pages.
  • Handbuch der Anatomie und vergleichenden Anatomie des Centralnervensystems der Säugetiere. With Louis Jacobsohn (Berlin neurobiologist). Berlin, S. Karger, 1899.
  • Handbuch der pathologischen Anatomie des Nervensystems. With L. Jacobsohn, Karl Anders Petrén (1868-1927) and Lazar Salomowitch Minor (1855-1942). Berlin, 1903-1904.
  • Tumeurs de la moelle épinicre et de la colonne vertebrale, Paris, 1910, 175 pages.
  • Migrena. La migraine. Warszawa, Nakladem Towarzystwa Naukowego Warszawskiego, 1912, vi, 313 pages. Series title: Wydawnictwa Towarzystwa Naukowego Warszawskiego. III.- Wydzial nauk matematycznych i przyrodniczych. In Polish.
  • Die Migräne. Berlin, J. Springer, 1912. Series title: Monographien aus dem Gesamtgebiete der Neurologie und Psychiatrie, Hft. 2.
  • Ernst Julius Remak and E. Flatau: Neuritis und Polyneuritis. 2 parts. Wien, A. Hölder, 1899-1900. In Carl Wilhelm Hermann Nothnagel (1841-1905), et al, publisher: Handbuch der speciellen Pathologie und Therapie. IX, Bd. 3, Abt. 3-4. (24 volumes, Vienna, 1894-1905). Flatau wrote the parts on anatomy and pathological anatomy.

See also



  • Eldridge, R. Edward Flatau, Wladyslaw Sterling, Torsion Spasm in Jewish Children, and the Early History of Human Genetics, Advances in Neurology, Vol. 14, strony 105-114, edited by R. Eldridge i S.Fahn. Raven Press, New York, 1976.
  • Herman, E. J. Historia neurologii polskiej 1975. Polska Akademia Nauk, Monografie z dziejów nauki i techniki, Tom XCVII, Wroclaw (in Polish; very comprehensive contribution)
  • Lazaros C. Triarhou, Edward Flatau (1868–1932) [in:] J. Neurol, 2007, 254:685–686, DOI 10.1007/s00415-006-0478-3.
  • Naderi, S., Ture, U., Glenn P.Y., History of the spinal cord localization, Neurosurg Focus, 2004, 16 (1): E15.
  • Simchowicz T., Edward Flatau, [in:] "Schweizer archiv fuer neurologie und psychiatrie ", 1933, t 31, s. 165-168.
  • Singer, The power of darkness, [in:] The collected stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer Farrar, Straus & Giroux; 610 stron (this story mentiones Flatau).
  • Śródka A, Uczeni polscy XIX-XX stulecia, tom I A-G, Agencja Wydawnicza ARIES, Warszawa 1994, ISBN 83-85787-09-7.
  • Triarhou, L. C., Edward Flatau (1868-1932), Journal of neurology, 2007, 254 strony 685-686.

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