Joseph Jules Dejerine

Born 1849
Died 1917

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French neurologist, born August 3, 1849, Genève; died February 26, 1917.

Biography of Joseph Jules Dejerine

Joseph Jules Dejerine was born to French parents in Geneva, Switzerland where his father was a carriage proprietor. In his youth he travelled extensively and became an accomplished linguist. Although an able scholar he was better known as a boxer and swimmer, and for his fishing on Lake Léman, than for his academic accomplishments.

During the Franco-Prussian War Dejerine worked as a volunteer in a Geneva Hospital and in the spring of 1871, when twenty-two years, decided that he should pursue his clinical studies in Paris. He set out for the metropolis in a third-class compartment, with no more than a brief introduction to Edmé Félix Alfred Vulpian (1826-1887) given him by Jean Louis Prévost (1838-1927), and arrived in the midst of the turmoil created by war and revolution. Unswervingly he set out to reach his goal, and thus Vulpian got his most famous pupil. Following qualification he rose rapidly through the academic ranks and gained several awards.

In 1877 he was appointed to the Hôpial Bicêtre, where he organised a pathological laboratory. He became professeur agrégé in 1886, and it was one year later, when he was Médecin en chef at the Bicêtre, he found the opportunity to concentrate his efforts on neurology. He worked at the Salpêtrière from 1895, became professor of the history of medicine in 1901 and received a senior appointment at the Salpêtrière in 1911. The climax of his highly productive career came with his appointment as Professeur de clinique des maladies du système nerveux à la Faculté de médecine.

Although Dejerine is best known for his contributions in the field of organic neurology, his interest in functional disorders of the nervous system was also keen, and was greatly stimulated by his friendship with Paul-Charles Dubois (1848-1918) of Bern. Dejerine was one of the pioneers in the study of localisation of function in the brain, having first shown, with Vialet, that word blindness may occur as the result of lesions of the supramarginal and angular gyri.

His vacations always brought him back to the land of his birth, to his place at Thalgut, near Bern, where his simple tastes and fondness for the rustic life found complete satisfaction. The German-Swiss neurologist Robert Bing (1878-1956), in his warm-hearted tribute to Dejerine, tells that during this period Dejerine developed many of his ideas of psychotherapy, which were applied by him with such remarkable success. Later on, Dubois’s and Dejerine’s views began to diverge, the latter insisting that the personality of the therapist was of extreme importance. He told his students: ”It is rare that you will be able to use subtle logic; it is your heart that carries you along – if I may express myself thus – and much more than your reason. In man, emotion is almost everything and reason very little.”

In 1888 Dejerine married his student, Augusta Marie Klumpke (1859-1927) who had studied medicine in Paris and in 1887 had been the first woman to become «interne des hôpitaux», in the face of great opposition, finally overcome by Paul Bert, then Minister of Public Instruction. '

Dejerine died in 1917 at the age of 68 years, physically debilitated by the stress of work in a military hospital during the Great War. The centenary of his birth was commemorated in 1949 at the fourth International Neurological Congress in Paris, when Dejerine’s pupil, André-Thomas, gave a discourse on his mentor’s life and achievements.

In 1893 Dejerine and Sottas wrote an account of a brother and sister with progressive atrophy of the muscles of the extremities. They emphasised the early onset of the condition that had occurred in infancy in the girl, Fanny Roy, and at adolescence in her brother, Henri. The girl was studied for many years and in the late stages she developed choreiform movements, nystagmus, ataxia and spinal malalignment. When she died at the age of 45 years autopsy revealed hypertrophy of the nerve roots and trunks.

There have been reports of affected families in which inheritance is clearly autosomal dominant. There is, however, considerable phenotypic variation and the question of a pathogenic relationship with other inherited neurological disorders is still a matter of debate.

According to Dejerine’s daughter, Mme. le Dr. Sorrel-Dejerine, the name is written Dejerine, without acute accents, not Déjerine or Déjérine.

Dejerine’s numerous publications span a period of more than 40 years. Like many eminent neurologists of his era, Dejerine became interested in psychology in the later stages of his career and he is remembered as a proponent of the view that the personality of the psychotherapist was crucial in any interaction with the patient.

”In man, emotion is almost everything and reason very little”

”In Paris you always can advance yourself by work and enthusiasm. You don’t need any strings.’ You are the product of your work.”

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