Biography of Korbinian Brodmann
Korbinian Brodmann studied medicine in Munich, Würzburg, Berlin, and Freiburg im Breisgau, and received his license to practice medicine in 1895. For a year thereafter he worked in the Universitäts-Kinderklinik und Poliklinik in Munich with the intention of settling down as a general practitioner in the Schwarzwald.
He contracted diphtheria, however, and during the summer of 1896, whilst recuperating worked as assistant in a sanatorium for nervous diseases in Alexanderbad in Fichtelgebirge, northern Bavaria, directed by Oskar Vogt (1870-1859). Under his influence, Brodmann turned to neurology and psychiatry, and Vogt described him as having "broad scientific interests, a good gift of observation and great diligence in widening his knowledge".
He subsequently attended courses of psychiatry, neurology, and brain anatomy in Berlin, and then worked at the pathological institute in Leipzig.
Brodmann received his medical doctorate in Leipzig in 1898 with a dissertation on chronic ependymal sclerosis. 1889-1900 he assisted to Otto Ludwig Binswanger (1852-1929) at the Grossherzogliche Sächsische Landes-Irren-Heilanstalt in Jena. 1900-1901 he worked in the mental asylum in Frankfurt am Main, and from there moved to the institute of neurology at the University of Berlin.
In the autumn of 1901 Brodmann joined Oskar Vogt and until 1910 worked with him in the Neurobiological Laboratory in Berlin where he undertook his famous studies on comparative cytoarchitectonics of mammalian cortex. Vogt suggested to Brodmann that he undertake a systematic study of the cells of the cerebral cortex, using sections stained with the new method of Franz Nissl (1860-1919).
Cécile (1875-1962) and Oskar Vogt were engaged on a parallel study of myeloarchitectonics, and physiological cortical stimulation. In April 1903, Brodmann and the Vogts gave a beautifully coordinated presentation, each of their own architectonic results, to the annual meeting of the German Psychiatric Society in Jena. Brodmann described the totally different cytoarchitectonic structure of the pre- and postcentral gyri in man and the sharp border between them.
Brodmann argued that the human cortex is organized anatomically in the same way as the cortex of all other mammals. He showed that the cortex in animals and humans consisted of six layers, and, on the basis of anatomical differences in these layers, he developed a numbering system which has become a standard basis for designating areas of cortex. His work culminated with the publication of Vergleichende Lokalisationslehre der Grosshirnrinde in 1909.
Brodmann's career in Berlin was marred by the surprise rejection by the Medical Faculty of his "Habilitation" thesis on the prosimian cortex. The economic insecurity of his position at the Neurobiologisches Institut induced him to leave Berlin in 1910 and to accept a position with R. Gaupp at Tübingen, where he was habilitated and made a titular professor in 1913. From 1910 to 1916 as assistant, then chief physician and leader of the anatomical laboratory at the psychiatric clinic.
From Tübingen he changed for Halle in order to work as a prosector at the Landesheilanstalt Nietleben, a curative institution in Halle an der Saale. Finally, in 1918, he accepted an invitation from Munich to take over leadership of the topographical-histological department at the research centre for psychiatry. He died in 1918 of septicaemia complicating pneumonia.
"Just at the moment when he had begun to live a very happy family life and when, after years of interruption because of war work, he was able to take up his research activities again in independent and distinguished circumstances, just at the moment when his friends were looking forward to a new era of successful research from him, a devastating infection snatched him away after a short illness, on 22 August 1918".
Oskar Vogt in his biography of Brodmann,1959.
- Vergleichende Lokalisationslehre der Grosshirnrinde in ihren Principien, dargestellt auf grund des Zellenbaues.
Leipzig, Johann Ambrosius Barth Verlag, 1909. 2nd edition, 1925.
English translation by Laurence J. Garey: Localisation in the Cerebral Cortex by Korbinian Brodmann. Smith-Gordon, 1994; new impression: Imperial College Press, 1999.