The Classic: On Arthropathies of Cerebral or Spinal Origin

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Jean-Martin Charcot (Fig. 1) was born in Paris, where his father was a carriage builder. He was educated in Paris and, after deciding to become a doctor, entered medical school at the age of 19. At that time, Paris was the world center of medical thought and activity; Charcot was exposed to some of the best teachers available. As he progressed through his training, he continued to develop his skills at drawing. His doctoral thesis, illustrated by his own drawings, dealt with the differential diagnosis of gout and other forms of acute rheumatism. Moving up the academic ladder, Charcot, in 1862, was appointed chief physician of l'Hospice de la Salpêtrière, an ancient hospital that contained 5000 chronically ill patients of all types. It was from this voluminous material that he described various conditions that established his reputation as the founder of the specialty of neurology. Perhaps his greatest contribution was the recognition that “locomotor ataxia,” a frequent cause of disability, was caused by tabes dorsalis, a form of neurosyphilis. Charcot was a great teacher, whose clinics became world famous. His relationship with Duchenne was very productive and his students, Jules Dejerine, Pierre Marie, and J. Babinski, carried on his great tradition.

The following description of neuropathic joint disease is contained in one of his lectures on the subject of locomotor ataxia. It is interesting to note that he did not associate diabetes in any way with the development of this condition, relating it only to locomotor ataxia.


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