The remarkable medical lineage of the Monro family: contributions of Alexander primus, secundus, and tertius

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Among the families that have influenced the development of modern medicine into what it is today, the Monro lineage stands as one of the most notable. Alexander Monro primus (1697–1767) was the first of 3 generations with the same name, a dynasty that spanned 126 years occupying the Chair of Anatomy one after the other at the University of Edinburgh. After becoming Professor of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh in 1719, Monro primus played a principal role in the establishment of the University of Edinburgh School of Medicine and the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. In 1726, he published The Anatomy of the Humane Bones, of which 8 editions were printed during his lifetime. His son, Alexander Monro secundus (1733–1817), arguably the most notable of the 3 men, succeeded him as Professor of Anatomy. A highly regarded lecturer and anatomist, Monro secundus studied under many great physicians, including William Hunter and Johann Friedrich Meckel the Elder, and was also teacher to other well-known figures at the time, such as Joseph Black and Thomas Trotter. His most notable contributions include his work with the lymphatic system, the interventricular foramen (of Monro), and the Monro-Kellie doctrine. Alexander Monro tertius (1773–1859), the last of the dynasty, also succeeded his father as Professor of Anatomy. His work included insights into abdominal aortic aneurysms and the anatomy of the genitourinary system. The prominent association of the Monro family with the University of Edinburgh and the effects of a tenured professorship under the concept of “Ad vitam aut culpam” over successive generations are also described. To the best of the authors' knowledge, this historical review of the Monro family is among the few published in neurosurgical literature. A vivid historical overview of the medical contributions of the most famous and influential dynasty of physicians in Edinburgh at that time is provided, with relevant excerpts from original publications.

Article Information

Address correspondence to: Alan R. Cohen, M.D., Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02115. email:

Please include this information when citing this paper: published online April 6, 2012; DOI: 10.3171/2012.2.JNS111366.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.



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    Monro family tree.

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    Illustration of Alexander Monro primus (1697–1767).

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    Illustration of Alexander Monro secundus (1733–1817).

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    Monro coat of arms.

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    Illustration of Alexander Monro tertius (1773–1859).

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    Title page from Monro A (Primus): The Anatomy of the Humane Bones. Edinburgh: T & W Ruddimans, 1732, 2nd edition.

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    Left: Illustrations of the interventricular foramen. Right: Original description of “iter ad tertium ventriculum” by Monro secundus.

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    Title page (A) and illustrations showing sympathetic ganglion (B), anencephaly (C), and conjoined twins (D) from Monro A (Secundus): Observations on the Structure and Functions of the Nervous System. Edinburgh: William Creech, 1783.

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    Title page (left) and illustration of bursae of the knee (right) from Monro A (Secundus): A Description of all the Bursae Mucosae of the Human Body. Edinburgh: C Elliot, T Kay, and Co, 1788.

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    Title page (left) and illustration of a brain tumor (right) from Monro A (Tertius): The Morbid Anatomy of the Brain. Edinburgh: Maclachlan and Stewart, 1827.



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