Georges Albert Édouard Brutus Gilles de la Tourette

Born 1857
Died 1904

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French neurologist, born October 30, 1857, Saint-Gervais-les-Trois-Clochers near Poitou, département Vienne; died May 26, 1904, Lausanne, Switzerland.

Biography of Georges Albert Édouard Brutus Gilles de la Tourette

Georges Albert Édouard Brutus Gilles de la Tourette was born into a medical family in Saint-Gervais-les-Trois-Clochers, a large village in Poitou, in west-central France. He commenced medical studies at Poitiers at the age of 16 years and subsequently moved to Paris.

Gilles de la Tourette became externe in Paris 1879, doctor of medicine and preparator with Paul Camille Hippolyte Brouardel (1837-1906) 1885; 1893 médecin des hôpitaux; 1896 chef de service; 1900 professeur agrégé. He was one of Charcot’s favourite pupils, his house physician and his self-appointed amanuensis. Charcot in turn helped his admiring pupil progressing steadily up the academic ladder. At this early phase of his life a contemporary described him as "a jovial and exuberant young man with a loud voice. Very ardent, but not very patient because over-excited, he got worked up in the most minor argument".

Leon Daudet (1867-1942), medical student and friend of Charcot's son Jean, who subsequently became an explorer, encouraged Gilles de la Tourette at the Salpêtrière and described him as "ugly like a Papuan idol with bundles of hair stuck on it". Gilles de la Tourette had boundless energy and threw himself avidly into new therapeutic techniques such as suspension, vibration and hypnotherapy. Sigmund Freud attended Tourette's lectures during thie period and was possibly influenced by his work on hypnosis.

In 1896 (or 1893) shortly after the tragic death of his young son and of his mentor Charcot, Gilles de la Tourette was shot in the head in his consulting rooms by a paranoid young woman who had been a patient at the Salpêtrière. She claimed that she had been hypnotised by Gilles de la Tourette against her will causing her to lose her sanity. The bizarre episode became a "proces celebre" seeming superficially to vindicate the Nancy School's views that criminal suggestion was possible under hypnotism, a view Gilles de la Tourette had vehemently rejected. Despite his colourful life and varied achievements only an incomplete biographical account by his friend Paul le Gendre, a few informative obituaries and some caustic sketches by Léon Daudet exist.

Thereafter he fluctuated between depression and hypomania, his publications became incresingly strident and unconventional and he took to organising public lectures on literary and theatrical topics with himself as the major speaker.

A talented teacher and a prolific writer, Gilles de la Tourette wrote and spoke publicly on a wide variety of topics, including art, literature and mesmerism. He respected neither persons nor conventions. He published an article on hysteria in the German Army, disregarding the wrath of Bismarck and later drew public attention to the deploring conditions on the british floating hospitals moored on the river Thames.

Gilles de la Tourette’s most substantial achievements were in the study of hysteria and the medico-legal ramifications of hypnotism, but he was also a competent neuropsychiatrist with a particular interest in therapeutics. He was a dynamic, passionately outspoken man whose prodigious literary output reflected his own restless compulsions as well as the interests of his beloved chiefs Brouardel and Charcot.

His love of Loudun, his ancestral home strongly influenced his subject matter that included a biography of Theophraste Renaudot, physician, social service- administrator and founder of France's first newspaper, La Gazette (1631). With his colleague Gabriel Legue, Gilles de la Tourette made a perceptive analysis of Soeur Jeanne des Agnes' account of her hysterical illness induced by her unrequited love for the Loudun priest Urbain Grandier, who was burned on the stake for witchcraft.

In 1902 Tourette’s disturbed behaviour necessitated his removal from his professional post and he died in a mental hospital in Lausanne in June, 1904.

Gilles de la Tourette’s syndrome
In 1884 Gilles de la Tourette, prompted by his mentor, Charcot, described nine patients who were affected with compulsive tics. One of these was the Marquise de Dampierre who had previously been reported in 1825 by Itard. This aristocratic lady lived as a recluse and "ticked and blasphemed", and the obituaries in the Paris newspapers quoted some of the more colourful details of her description. Her disturbances began when she was seven years old, and persisted until her death at the age of 80 years, except for one year when she visited Switzerland and married.

Charcot favoured the euphonic eponym of "Gilles de la Tourette" and this name was attached to the disorder. During the closing years of the 19th century it was well documented and extensively reported. However, from the turn of the century to the mid 1900’s it was rarely reported. It had seemed to disappear, as interest was lost in this syndrome. In 1978 Shapiro and his colleagues published a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary monograph. Thereafter the Gilles de la Tourette’s syndrome was accepted as a specific entity, although controversy has persisted regarding syndromic boundaries.

It has been suggested that several historic figures might have been affected, including Prince Conde, a member of the French royal family and Dr. Samuel Johnson, the british diarist. Some authors also think that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) had the syndrome, and that this explains his foul mouth and his love of nonsense words.

Gilles de la Tourette was a co-founder of the Nouvelle iconographie de la Salpêtrière.

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