On Chorea/Notes

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On Chorea by George Huntington

Notes on the "medical curiosity"[edit]

The closing sentence is an understatement, to say the least. Huntington clearly could not foresee the enormous impact that the last seven paragraphs of his essay would have on research into genetics and neuronal function even into the 21st century [1].

Apart from that, the compact yet comprehensive style of the description itself is noteworthy. Of this, Sir William Osler [2] wrote: “in the whole range of descriptive nosology there is not, to my knowledge, an instance in which disease has been so accurately and fully delineated in so few words. No details were given; the original cases were not even described, but to Huntington’s account of the symptomentology no essential fact has been added."

Huntington recognised the contribution that his father and grandfather, both practicing in East Hampton, Long Island, had made to the observation of the disease. Indeed, the paper was delivered but a year after he had qualified as a doctor, and does not report information that he himself had gleaned in his practice. Describing the writing of the essay, Charles S. Stevenson [3], says: "He especially noted the existent cases and studied the notes on the old cases of the peculiar form of chorea his father and grandfather had had in their practice. ... (H)is father had classified these cases. ... (T)he original draft of his essay ... was carefully revised by his father, whose pencil notes and corrections are seen today on the original manuscript." Stevenson goes on to quote Huntington, from an address which he gave before the New York Neurological Society in 1909: "... without the facts and observations handed down to me by my grandfather, Dr. Abel Huntington, and my father, Dr. George Lee Huntington, the medical lives of whom both were spent in East Hampton, Long Island, ... I never could have formulated a picture of the salient characteristics of the disease so true and so complete as to make of it a so-called classic."


  1. Okun MS. Huntington's disease: What We Learned from the Original Essay. The Neurologist 9:175-179, 2003
  2. Osler W. Historical note on hereditary chorea. Neurographs, 1:113–116, 1908
  3. Charles SS. A Biography Of George Huntington, M.D. Bulletin Of The Institute Of The History Of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University (Supplement To The Bulletin Of The Johns Hopkins Hospital), Volume II, Number 2, April 1934