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Pierre Bourdillon, Caroline Apra and Marc Lévêque

Although attempts to develop stereotactic approaches to intracranial surgery started in the late 19th century with Dittmar, Zernov, and more famously, Horsley and Clarke, widespread use of the technique for human brain surgery started in the second part of the 20th century. Remarkably, a significant similar surgical procedure had already been performed in the late 19th century by Gaston Contremoulins in France and has remained unknown. Contremoulins used the principles of modern stereotaxy in association with radiography for the first time, allowing the successful removal of intracranial bullets in 2 patients. This surgical premiere, greatly acknowledged in the popular French newspaper L’Illustration in 1897, received little scientific or governmental interest at the time, as it emanated from a young self-taught scientist without official medical education. This surgical innovation was only made possible financially by popular crowdfunding and, despite widespread military use during World War I, with 37,780 patients having benefited from this technique for intra- or extracranial foreign bodies, it never attracted academic or neurosurgical consideration. The authors of this paper describe the historical context of stereotactic developments and the personal history of Contremoulins, who worked in the department of experimental physiology of the French Academy of Sciences led by Étienne-Jules Marey in Paris, and later devoted himself to radiography and radioprotection. The authors also give precise information about his original stereotactic tool “the bullet finder” (“le chercheur de projectiles”) and its key concepts.

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Pierre Bourdillon, Caroline Apra, Marc Lévêque and Fabien Vinckier

Contrary to common psychosurgical practice in the 1950s, Dr. Jean Talairach had the intuition, based on clinical experience, that the brain connectome and neuroplasticity had a role to play in psychosurgery. Due to the remarkable progress of pharmacology at that time and to the technical limits of neurosurgery, these concepts were not put into practice. Currently, these concepts are being confirmed by modern techniques such as neuroimaging and computational neurosciences, and could pave the way for therapeutic innovation in psychiatry.

Psychosurgery commonly uses a localizationist approach, based on the idea that a lesion to a specific area is responsible for a deficit opposite to its function. To psychosurgeons such as Walter Freeman, who performed extensive lesions causing apparently inevitable deficit, Talairach answered with clinical data: complex psychic functions cannot be described that simply, because the same lesion does not provoke the same deficit in different patients. Moreover, cognitive impairment did not always follow efficacious psychosurgery. Talairach suggested that selectively destructing part of a network could open the door to a new organization, and that early psychotherapy could encourage this psychoplasticity. Talairach did not have the opportunity to put these concepts into practice in psychiatric diseases because of the sudden availability of neuroleptics, but connectomics and neuroplasticity gave rise to major advances in intraparenchymal neurosurgery, from epilepsy to low-grade glioma. In psychiatry, alongside long-standing theories implicating focal lesions and diffuse pathological processes, neuroimaging techniques are currently being developed. In mentally healthy individuals, combining diffusion tensor imaging with functional MRI, magnetoencephalography, and electroencephalography allows the determination of a comprehensive map of neural connections in the brain on many spatial scales, the so-called connectome. Ultimately, global neurocomputational models could predict physiological activity, behavior, and subjective feeling, and describe neuropsychiatric disorders.

Connectomic studies comparing psychiatric patients with controls have already confirmed the early intuitions of Talairach. As a striking example, massive dysconnectivity has been found in schizophrenia, leading some authors to propose a “dysconnection hypothesis.” Alterations of the connectome have also been demonstrated in obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. Furthermore, normalization of the functional dysconnectivity has been observed following clinical improvement in several therapeutic interventions, from psychotherapy to pharmacological treatments. Provided that mental disorders result from abnormal structural or functional wiring, targeted psychosurgery would require that one be able: 1) to identify the pathological network involved in a given patient; 2) to use neurostimulation to safely create a reversible and durable alteration, mimicking a lesion, in a network compatible with neuroplasticity; and 3) to predict which functional lesion would result in adapted neuronal plasticity and/or to guide neuronal plasticity to promote recovery. All these conditions, already suggested by Talairach, could now be achievable considering modern biomarkers and surgical progress.

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Pierre Bourdillon, Sylvain Rheims, Jean Isnard and Marc Guénot

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Pierre Bourdillon, Claude-Edouard Châtillon, Alexis Moles, Sylvain Rheims, Hélène Catenoix, Alexandra Montavont, Karine Ostrowsky-Coste, Sebastien Boulogne, Jean Isnard and Marc Guénot


Stereoelectroencephalography (SEEG) was first developed in the 1950s by Jean Talairach using 2D angiography and a frame-based, orthogonal approach through a metallic grid. Since then, various other frame-based and frameless techniques have been described. In this study the authors sought to compare the traditional orthogonal Talairach 2D angiographic approach with a frame-based 3D robotic procedure that included 3D angiographic interoperative imaging guidance. MRI was used for both procedures during surgery, but MRI preplanning was done only in the robotic 3D technique.


All study patients suffered from drug-resistant focal epilepsy and were treated at the same center by the same neurosurgical team. Fifty patients who underwent the 3D robotic procedure were compared to the same number of historical controls who had previously been successfully treated with the Talairach orthogonal procedure. The effectiveness and absolute accuracy, as well as safety, of the two procedures were compared. Moreover, in the 3D robotic group, the reliability of the preoperative MRI to avoid vascular structures was evaluated by studying the rate of trajectory modification following the coregistration of the intraoperative 3D angiographic data onto the preoperative MRI-based trajectory plans.


Effective accuracy (96.5% vs 13.7%) and absolute accuracy (1.15 mm vs 4.00 mm) were significantly higher in the 3D robotic group than in the Talairach orthogonal group. Both procedures showed excellent safety results (no major complications). The rate of electrode modification after 3D angiography was 43.8%, and it was highest for frontal and insular locations.


The frame-based, 3D angiographic, robotic procedure described here provided better accuracy for SEEG implantations than the traditional Talairach approach. This study also highlights the potential safety advantage of trajectory planning using intraoperative frame-based 3D angiography over preoperative MRI alone.