Pierre Marie

Born 1853-09-09
Died 1940-04-13

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French neurologist, born September 9, 1853, Paris; died April 13. 1940, Paris.

Biography of Pierre Marie

Pierre Marie, the son of a wealthy bourgeois family of Paris, received his first education at a boarding school in Vauves. Complying with the wish of his father, he first studied law, before deciding to enter medicine. After completing medical school, he was named Interne des hôpitaux in 1878 and began his work in neurology under the tutelage of Jean-Martin Charcot at the Salpêtrière and Bicêtre. Marie soon became one of Charcot’s most outstanding students and served as his laboratory and clinic chief and special assistant. He received his medical doctorate in 1883 with a classical dissertation on Basedow’s diseasase, carrying a graphic description of the tremor observed in the extended arms and fingers, a phenomenon he had begun to study while a medical student. Promoted to médecin des hôpitaux in Paris in 1888, he was apponted agrégé at the Paris Faculty of Medicine in 1889. As part of his work for this position, he presented to the faculty a series of lectures, now famous, on diseases of the spinal cord, which were published in 1892.

In 1897 he received a position with the Hospice de Bicêtre, which had been founded by Louis IX. Here he created a neurological service that gained worldwide repute. In this period he published extensively on aphasia, and rejected the views of Pierre Paul Broca (1824-1880) and Karl Wernicke (1848-1905) on the localisation of the speech center. His document on the subject was the basis of a devastating critique on the previous work. He attacked the ideas of Broca, using as the provocative title for his paper “The third left frontal convolution has no special role in the function of language.” Dissecting one of Broca’s specimens which had remained untouched, he demonstrated that the lesion affected far more than Broca’s area. His three papers on aphasia appeared in Semaine médicale in 1906. They generated much discussion, and three special sessions of the Société française de neurologie de Paris convened in 1908 to compare Marie’s views on language disorders, which differed from Broca’s widely accepted doctrine that aphasia is caused by a lesion in the cerebral hemisphere’s «speech center.»

In 1907 he successfully applied for the vacant chair of pathological anatomy at the Faculty of Medicine, and during his ten years there dedicated himself to that profession, however, without adding much to the subject itself. With the aid of Gustave Roussy, his successor, Marie completely modernized the teaching of pathological anatomy in medical schools, and established laboratories and a museum.

In 1917, aged 64, Marie was appointed to the chair of neurology which had been created for Charcot and occupied since his tenure by Fulgence Raymond (1844-1919), Édouard Brissaud (1852-1909) and Joseph Jules Dejerine (1849-1917). When Marie assumed the chair in 1918, toward the end of a destructive war, there were no longer the facilities or the means to continue the painstaking laboratory studies of the Dejerine school, nor did Marie’s interests incline him in that direction. During the war, Marie and his colleagues in «Charcot’s clinic» devoted most of their time to the study and treatment of neurological traumas of the wounded, but Marie’s great productive period was over.

A brilliant clinician in the tradition of Charcot, Marie was an outstanding, demanding teacher. Between 1885 and 1910, the most productive period of his career, he wrote numerous articles and book and developed an international school of neurology which was to produce many distinguished pupils. He possessed a keen intuition which was sharpened by a rigorous approach to the study and practice of neurology. Capable of making shrewd clinical judgments, Marie successfully identified and described a series of disorders with which his name is linked.

In one of his earliest and most significant works (1886-1891), he provided the first description and study of acromegaly. Marie’s analysis of the pituitary gland disorder was a fundamental contribution to the nascent field of endocrinology. He was also the first to define muscular atrophy type Charcot-Marie (1886), pulmonary hypertrophic osteoarthropathy (1890); cerebellar heredotaxia (1893); cleidocranial dyssostosis (1897); and rhizomelic spondylosis (1898).

Marie led a quiet, private life with his wife and only son, André, who also became a physician. He received few visitors and avoided public appearances although he was awarded numerous honours. His abiding interests were art, the Revue neurologique, which he and E. Brissaud founded in 1893, and the Société Française de Neurologie, which he served as its first general secretary. He was a member of the Académie de Médecine from 1911.

Outside medicine his interests were in the arts, fencing, and golf, and his life was happy until his daughter Juliette died of appendicitis. After resigning from his chair at the Salpêtrière in 1925, aged seventy two, he spent the winters at Côte d’Azur and the summer at his estate in Normandy. His life was shattered, however, by the death of his wife from erysipelas and his only son from botulism he had contracted during his investigations at the Pasteur Institute. After this he lived as a virtual recluse and was increasingly troubled by ill health until his death at the age of 86.

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