- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Ernst Axel Henrik Key

Born  1832
Died  1901

Related eponyms

Swedish physician, born October 25, 1832, estate Johannisberg in Flisby socken, Jönköpings län; died December 27, 1901, Stockholm.

Biography of Ernst Axel Henrik Key

Ernst Axel Henrik Key was born in Flisby, where his father, Henrik Key, was a captain. His mother was Caroline Vilhelmine, née Åberg. The Key family was remotely related to Ellen Key, a writer whose books chocked the bourgeoisie.

During his childhood years, Key received private tuition at home. At the age of 16, he came to Lund and was matriculated at the university. He was an eager participant in student life, but also studied hard. Ha took an early interest in anatomy, studying under Anders Retzius at the Karolinska Institutet. He graduated in 1855, and became a Licentiate of medicine in 1857. 1857-1859 he was subordinate surgeon at the Serafimerlasarettet in Stockholm

Key defended his doctoral thesis at the University of Lund in 1861 and received his doctoral diploma the following year. While working on his thesis, he studied normal histology with the zoologist and cytologist Max Schultze (1825-1874) in Bonn in 1860, and during 1860-1861 he spent time in Berlin as an assistant at the pathological institute at the Charité under Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902), a political liberal and a Darwinist.

In 1862, Key was appointed professor of pathology at the Karolinska Institutet, the first to hold this tenure at the institute. He was rector of the institute from 1886 to 1897, when he retired from his position and received a state pension.

One of his major tasks was to arrange for a pathological laboratory at the Karolinska, and he introduced cellular pathology in Swedish medical science. Key distinguished himself as a lecturer and demonstrator, inspiring several generations of younger physicians.

Perhaps it was due the influence of Rudolf Virchow that Key, also a liberal, from 1881 to 1887 represented Stockholm in the Riksdagen (the Swedish National Assembly). Here he joined the committee for education. In this position Key worked to improve school hygiene. He initiated large statistical investigations regarding the health of school children, hygienic habits, their home work routine etc. Key himself worked out the results and he could prove that some of the pupils were mentally and physically exhausted (överanstrengda), a remarkable observation in his time. The investigation was translated into German and he presented his results at international medical congresses. On his suggestion the teaching committee expressed a wish to introduce a medical service for schools. He was internationally recognised as a pioneer in school hygiene. He left the Riksdsagen in 1887.

Key was rector of the Karolinska Institutet 1886-1897 and he struggled that the institute should be put on an even level with the other medical faculties. However, this was not achieved during his lifetime. At the institute he also distinguished himself for his speeches in Swedish medical history on the occasions of professorial inauguration.

Key had a great interest in old Nordic history, which led him to cooperate with Arthur Hazelius (1833-1901).

Key founded the journal Medicinskt Archiv in 1863 together with some colleagues, and with Retzius the popular journal Ur vår tids forskning.

Key was married to Selma Charlotta Godenius with whom he got the sons Helmer Key, a newspaperman, and Einar Key, a famous neurosurgeon.


  • Om smaknervernes ändningssätt i grodtungan, jemte anmërkningar öfver nervernas likartade ändningssett i de øfriga høgre sinnesorganerna.
    Doctoral dissertation. Lund. Berlingska Boktryckeriet, 1861.
    [On the Mode of termination of the Gustatory Nerves on the Tongue of the Frog; with observations on a similar Mode of Termination of the Nerves in the Organs of higher Sense.]
  • Ueber die Endigungsweise der Geschmacksnerven in der Zunge Frosches. [Virchows] Archiv für Anatomie, Physiologie und wissenschaftliche Medicin, Leipzig, 1861: 329-349.
  • Zur Anatomie der Milz. [Virchows] Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und für klinische Medicin, Berlin, 1861.
  • Om de s.k. tubularafgjutningarnes olika former och bildning vid sjukdomar i njurarne. Nordiskt medicinkst Arkiv, Stockholm, 1863.
  • Om Zirkulationsförhållandena i njurarna.
    Nordiskt medicinkst Arkiv, Stockholm, 1863.
  • Om aortaanevrismers återverkan på hjertat.
    Nordiskt medicinkst Arkiv, Stockholm, 1869.
  • Om det korrosiva magsårets uppkomst. Hygiea, Stockholm, 1870.
  • Experimentela undersökningar öfver inflammationen i hornhinnan.
    With Curt Wallis, 1845-1922.
    Nordiskt medicinskt Arkiv, Stockholm, volume 3, 1871.
    German translation:
  • Experimentelle Untersuchungen über die Entzündung der Hornhaut. Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und für klinische Medicin, Berlin, 1872.
  • Studien in der Anatomie des Nervensystems und des Bindegewebes.
    Von Axel Key und Gust. Retzius.
    2 volumes. Stockholm, Samson & Wallin. 1875-1876.
    In this truly monumental work, Key and Retzius describe a number of very important discoveries and verifications concerning the structure of the nervous system, not the least of which is the confirmation of the existence of the foramen of Magendie. As a work of art and scientific accuracy, the two volumes of beautifully executed colored lithographs rank with the best atlases of any age. The authors accomplished their task while at the Karolinska Institut in Sweden. Retzius was a man of great industry and versatility, the author of some 333 scientific articles as well as several volumes of poetry.
    The authors were awarded a Monthyon-prize from the French Academy of Sciences (Institut de France) and became world famous. This work was an important fundament for the heroic era of neurologuy and neurosurgery that wassoon to emerge.
  • Om svulstmetastaser inom centrala nervsystemets serösa banon.
    Nordiskt medicinkst Arkiv, Stockholm, 1879.
  • Läroverkskomitens betänkande. III. Bilaga E till læreoverkscomitens uttalande och förslag. Stockholm, 1885.
    German translation: Schuhygienische Untersuchungen. Published by Leo Burgenstein, 1889.
  • Die Pubertätsentwicklung und das Verhältnis derselben zu den Krankheitserscheinungen der Schuljugend. Lecture given at the 2nd international medical meeting of the Xth congress. Berlin, 1890. Biographical etc.
  • August Hirsch (1817-1894), publisher:
    Biographisches Lexikon der hervorragenden Ärzte aller Zeiten und Völker.
    2nd edition. Berlin, Urban & Schwarzenberg, 1929.
    First published in 6 volumes 1884-1888. 3rd edition, München 1962.
  • Heirs of Hippocrates.
    Friends of the University of Iowa Libraries. Iowa City, 1980
  • Jeremy M. Norman, editor:
    Morton’s Medical Bibliography. An annotated Check-list of Texts Illustrating the History of Medicine (Garrison and Morton). Fifth edition. Scolar Press, 1991.
  • Bengt Ljunggren and George W. Bruyn:
    The Nobel Prize in Medicine and the Karolinska Institutet. The Story of Axel Key and Alfred Nobel.
    Basel, S. Karger AG, 2002. 232 pages.
    Reviewed by Jens Astrup in Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, march 2003, 107 (3): 239–239.
  • Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.

What is an eponym?

An eponym is a word derived from the name of a person, whether real or fictional. A medical eponym is thus any word related to medicine, whose name is derived from a person.

What is Whonamedit?

Whonamedit.com is a biographical dictionary of medical eponyms. It is our ambition to present a complete survey of all medical phenomena named for a person, with a biography of that person.


Whonamedit? does not give medical advice.
This survey of medical eponyms and the persons behind them is meant as a general interest site only. No information found here must under any circumstances be used for medical purposes, diagnostically, therapeutically or otherwise. If you, or anybody close to you, is affected, or believe to be affected, by any condition mentioned here: see a doctor.