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Nicolas Maurice Arthus

Born  1862-01-09
Died  1945

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French physician, physiologist, and bacteriologist, born January 9, 1862, Angers, département Allier; died 1945.

Biography of Nicolas Maurice Arthus

«Seek facts and classify them and you will be the workmen of science. Conceive or accept theories and you will be their politicians.»

De l’Anaphylaxie à l’immunité.

Arthus studied in Paris and was conferred doctor of medicine in 1886. In 1890 he became Chef de conférances phsyiologiques at the Sorbonne, and in 1895 was appointed Professor of Physiology at the University of Friburg in Switzerland.

After five years, in 1900, he returned to France to become Chef de laboratoire at the Institut Pasteur in Lille. In 1903 he became professor of physiology at the Ecole de Médecine in Marseilles and in 1907, following the death of Alexander Herzen (1839-1906), he was offered the Chair of Physiology at the University of Lausanne.

In 1890 he commenced working on the coagulation of milk and with Calixte Pageo showed that the conversion of caseinogen to casein required calcium, as had already been shown for blood coagulation. He introduced the use of sodium oxalate as an anticoagulant for blood and milk. He commenced working on anaphylaxis in 1903, following its demonstration by Paul Portier (1866-1962) and Charles Robert Richet (1850-1935) who injected extract of marine animals into dogs.

He made numerous contributions to the understanding of the immune and allergic mechanisms of serum. His important work on anaphylaxis and immunity was written while Arthus was professor of physiology at the University of Lausanne. Arthus studied subcutaneous injections of horse serum into rabbits. After the fourth injection he noted that absorbtion was slow and a local oedematous reaction occurred; after the fifth it became purulent and after the seventh gangrenous. Intravenous injection, however, produced characteristic anaphylaxis, with rapid respiration, hypotension and incoagulability of the blood and if a high enough dose was given, respiratory and cardiac death.

He also studied the actions of snake venoms, initially separating them into three types, the cobra (Naja tripudiens) causing death by respiratory arrest, the Russel viper causing massive blood coagulation, and the Crotalas adamanteus, producing death by shock. Careful analysis of these effects in animals using small repeated doses of cobra venom made the animal resistant to muscular paralysis but resulted in death from shock. He then developed antivenene by treating the venom with formalin prior to injection in the animal.

His final years were devoted to study of physiological effects of the products of microorganisms.

Arthus modelled himself on Claude Bernard - he was particularly critical of theories which could not be tested and insisted on distinguishing such from hypotheses which could be subjected to laboratory testing.

We thank René Dreuille for information submitted.


  • Nouvelle théorie chimique de la coagulation du sang.
    With Calixte Pages. Archives de physiologie normale et pathologique, Paris, 1890, 5th ser., 2: 739-746. First demonstration of the essential role of calcium in the mechanism of blood coagulation.
  • Coagulation des liquides de l'organisme (sang, lymphe, transsudats). Paris 1894.
  • Précis de chimie physiologique. Paris 1895; 10th edition, 1924,
  • Nature des enzymes. Paris 1896.
  • Précis de physiologie. Paris 1901; 7th edition, 1927.
  • Injections répétées de serum du cheval zhez le lapin.
    Comptes rendus des séances de la Société de biologie, Paris, 1903; 55: 817-820.
  • La physiologie. Paris 1920.
  • Précis de physiologie microbienne. Paris 1921.
  • De l'anaphylaxie à l'immunité; anaphylaxie, protéotoxies, evenimations, anaphylaxie-immunité, sérums antivenimeux. Paris, Masson, 1921. 363 pages. Paris 1921.
  • Philosphy of scientific investigation; preface to De l'anaphylaxie à l'immunité, Paris, 1921. Translated from the French with an introduction by Henry E. Sigerist. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1943, 26 pages. Also in: Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Baltimore, 1943; 3. v.14.
  • P. Nolf, N. M. Arthus, et al:
    Hommage à Léon Fredericq, professeur de physiologie à l’Université de Liége. Liége, 1938. 79 pages.

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