- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Leon Abgarovich Orbeli

Born  1882
Died  1958

Related eponyms

Russian (Yermenian) physiologist, born July 7, 1882, Tsakhkadzor, Yermenia, Russia; died December 9, 1958, Leningrad, U.S.S.R.

Biography of Leon Abgarovich Orbeli

Leon Abgarovich Orbeli was born in Tsakhkadzor, now Armenia's primary ski resort and previous Soviet Olympic training grounds. His father was Iosif Orbeli, a well known jurist. He graduated from the Gymnasium in Tbilisi in 1899 and entered the Military Medical Academy in St. Petersburg. While still a student in the second course when he began to work in the laboratory of Ivan Petrovich Pavlov (1849-1936). For the next thirty-five years, Orbeli's life and scientific career were closely connected with the work of Pavlov.

Orbeli graduated from the Military Medical Academy in 1904 and became an intern at the Nikolai Hospital in Kronshtadt, the Naval Hospital in St. Petersburg. This gave him the opportunity to continue his experimental research in Pavlov's laboratory.

Orbeli's scientific career was spent in the leading Russian physiological centres, and he joined Pavlov in 1907, at the very height of Pavlov's research on conditioned reflexes. He was Pavlov's assistant in the Department of physiology at the Institute for Experimental Medicine from 1907 to 1920. From 1918-1946 he was head of the Department for physiology of the State Institute for Science Research P. F. Lesgaft, located at the Petrograd Scientific Institute in the Biological Station in Koltushakh. Orbeli was professor of physiology at the First Leningrad Medical Institute from 1920 to 1931, and from 1925 to 1950 professor of physiology at the Military-Medical Academy. He was head of the latter from 1943 to 1950.

Orbeli worked for two years abroad, with Karl Ewald Konstantin Hering (1834-1918) in Germany, John Newport Langley (1852-1925) and Joseph Barcroft (1872-1947) in England, and at the Marine Biological Station in Naples. After Pavlov's death in 1936, Orbeli, now Russia's most prominent scientist, was appointed director of the Pavlov Institute. From 1939 to 1946 he was secretary to the Department of Biological Science and vice president of the Academy of Science of the USSR.

In 1956 Orbeil organized the I. M. Sechenov Institute of Evolutionary Physiology and headed this institution until 1958. It was later renamed Intstitute of Evolutioanry Physiology and Biochemistry of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. In 1935 he was elected an active member of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R. In 1945 he was awarded the title of Hero of Socialist Labor. He held the rank of general colonel.

Orbely played an imprtant part in the development of evolutionary physiology and wrote more than 200 works on experimental and theoretical science, 130 of them journal articles. Alexandr Grigorievich Gyietsinski, with whom he shares eponymic fame, was one of his students. His brother, also an academician, was director of the Hermitage museum from 1934 to 1951.

We thank Zoran Bojanic, MD. PhD, Serbia; and Serge Brokman, Russia, for information submitted.


  • Uslovnye reflexy s glaza u sobaky. Dissertacia. St Petersburg, 1908.
    "Conditioned Reflexes of the Eye in Dogs. In his dissertattion, Orbeli showed that a change in the intensity of light could serve as a conditioned stimulus for a dog, even though the dog could not distinguish the color.
  • O mechanyzme vozniknovenia spinnomozgovych koordinatsyi.
    Izvestiia Nauch In PF Lesgafta 1923, 6: 202.
  • Obzor uchenia o sympatycheskoi innervatsyii skeletnych myshc, organov chuvstv i centralnoi nervnoi systemy.
    Physiol Zhurn SSSR 1932, 15 (1-2): 1.
  • Lectsyii po fiziologyii nervnoi systemy.
    Leningrad-Moskva, 1934; Leningrad, 1935 and Leningrad-Moskva, 1938.
  • Nekotorye osnovnye voprosi problemy boly.
    In: O. S. Fridman, editor: Sovetskaia nevropsykhiatrya. Leningrad, 1938: 5.
  • Novye predstavlenya o functsyii mozzhechka.
    Uspechi sovremennoj biologii, 1940, 13 (2): 207. Evolyucionnyi printsyp v primenenyii k phyziologyii centralynoi nervnoi systemy.
    Uspechi sovremennoj biologii, 1942, 15 (6): 257.
  • Lectsyii po voprosam vysshei nervnoi deyatelnosty. Moskva-Leningrad, 1945.
  • Voprosy vysshei nervnoi deyatelnosty. Moskva-Leningrad, 1949.
  • [Basic Problemss and Methods of Evolutionary Physiology]. 1956.
  • Osnovnye zadachy i metody evolyutsyonnoi physiologyii.
    In: D. A. Byryukov, editor: Evolyutsya functsyi nervnogo systemy. Leningrad, 1958: 7.
  • Izbrannye trudy [Selected Works]. 5 volumes, Moscow-Leningrad, 1961-1968.
  • N. A. Grigorian:
    Orbeli, Leon Abgarovich.
    In: Charles Coulston Gillispie, editor in chief: Dictionary of Scientific Biographies. American Council of learned societies. Charles Scribner’s Sons. New York, 1970, pp. 220-221.
  • L. G. Leibson:
    Leon Abgarovich Orbeli. Leningrad: Nauka, 1973.
    Akademik L.A. Orbeli: neopublikovannye glavy biografii. Leningrad: Nauka, 1990.
  • V. L. Sviderski, editor:
    Akademik Leon Abgarovich Orbeli: Nauchnoe nasledie. Moscow, Nauka, 1997.

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