History of spinal cord localization

Sait Naderi M.D., Uğur Türe M.D. and T. Glenn Pait M.D.
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  • Departments of Neurosurgery, Dokuz Eylül University School of Medicine, Izmir, Turkey; Ondokuz Mayıs University School of Medicine, Samsun, Turkey; and Departments of Neurosurgery and Orthopedic Surgery, The Jackson T. Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas
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The first reference to spinal cord injury is recorded in the Edwin Smith papyrus. Little was known of the function of the cord before Galen's experiments conducted in the second century AD. Galen described the protective coverings of the spinal cord: the bone, posterior longitudinal ligament, dura mater, and pia mater. He gave a detailed account of the gross anatomy of the spinal cord. During the medieval period (AD 700–1500) almost nothing of note was added to Galen's account of spinal cord structure. The first significant work on the spinal cord was that of Blasius in 1666. He was the first to differentiate the gray and white matter of the cord and demonstrated for the first time the origin of the anterior and posterior spinal nerve roots. The elucidation of the various tracts in the spinal cord actually began with demonstrations of pyramidal decussation by Mistichelli (1709) and Pourfoir du Petit (1710). Huber (1739) recorded the first detailed account of spinal roots and the denticulate ligaments. In 1809, Rolando described the substantia gelati-nosa. The microtome, invented in 1824 by Stilling, proved to be one of the fundamental tools for the study of spinal cord anatomy. Stilling's technique involved slicing frozen or alcohol-hardened spinal cord into very thin sections and examining them unstained by using the naked eye or a microscope. With improvements in histological and experimental techniques, modern studies of spinal cord anatomy and function were initiated by Brown-Séquard. In 1846, he gave the first demonstration of the decussation of the sensory tracts. The location and direction of fiber tracts were uncovered by the experimental studies of Burdach (1826), Türck (1849), Clarke (1851), Lissauer (1855), Goll (1860), Flechsig (1876), and Gowers (1880). Bastian (1890) demonstrated that in complete transverse lesions of the spinal cord, reflexes below the level of the lesion are lost and muscle tone is abolished. Flatau (1894) observed the laminar nature of spinal pathways.

The 20th century ushered in a new era in the evaluation of spinal cord function and localization; however, the total understanding of this remarkable organ remains elusive. Perhaps the next century will provide the answers to today's questions about spinal cord localization.

The first reference to spinal cord injury is recorded in the Edwin Smith papyrus. Little was known of the function of the cord before Galen's experiments conducted in the second century AD. Galen described the protective coverings of the spinal cord: the bone, posterior longitudinal ligament, dura mater, and pia mater. He gave a detailed account of the gross anatomy of the spinal cord. During the medieval period (AD 700–1500) almost nothing of note was added to Galen's account of spinal cord structure. The first significant work on the spinal cord was that of Blasius in 1666. He was the first to differentiate the gray and white matter of the cord and demonstrated for the first time the origin of the anterior and posterior spinal nerve roots. The elucidation of the various tracts in the spinal cord actually began with demonstrations of pyramidal decussation by Mistichelli (1709) and Pourfoir du Petit (1710). Huber (1739) recorded the first detailed account of spinal roots and the denticulate ligaments. In 1809, Rolando described the substantia gelati-nosa. The microtome, invented in 1824 by Stilling, proved to be one of the fundamental tools for the study of spinal cord anatomy. Stilling's technique involved slicing frozen or alcohol-hardened spinal cord into very thin sections and examining them unstained by using the naked eye or a microscope. With improvements in histological and experimental techniques, modern studies of spinal cord anatomy and function were initiated by Brown-Séquard. In 1846, he gave the first demonstration of the decussation of the sensory tracts. The location and direction of fiber tracts were uncovered by the experimental studies of Burdach (1826), Türck (1849), Clarke (1851), Lissauer (1855), Goll (1860), Flechsig (1876), and Gowers (1880). Bastian (1890) demonstrated that in complete transverse lesions of the spinal cord, reflexes below the level of the lesion are lost and muscle tone is abolished. Flatau (1894) observed the laminar nature of spinal pathways.

The 20th century ushered in a new era in the evaluation of spinal cord function and localization; however, the total understanding of this remarkable organ remains elusive. Perhaps the next century will provide the answers to today's questions about spinal cord localization.

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Contributor Notes

Address reprint requests to: Sait Naderi, M.D., Department of Neurosurgery, Dokuz Eylül University Hospital, Inciralti, 35340, Izmir, Turkey. email: snaderi@deu.edu.tr.

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