Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/December 1873/A New Method with the Brain

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584328Popular Science Monthly Volume 4 December 1873 — A New Method with the Brain
David Ferrier


By Professor FERRIER.

ALL are agreed that it is with the brain that we feel, and think, and will; but whether there are certain parts of the brain devoted to particular manifestations, is a subject on which we have only imperfect speculations or data too insufficient for the formation of a scientific opinion. The general view is that the brain as a whole subserves mental operations, and that there are no parts specially devoted to any particular functions. This has been recently expressed by so high an authority as Prof. Séquard. The idea rests chiefly on the numerous facts of disease with which we are acquainted. There are cases where extensive tracts of brain are destroyed by disease, or removed after a fracture, apparently with no result as regards the mind of the individual. Along with these facts we have others which are very curious, and which hardly seem to agree with this doctrine. One of these is, that when a certain part of the brain is diseased, in aphasia, the individual is unable to express himself in words. Other curious phenomena have been well described by Dr. Hughlings Jackson, viz., that certain tumors or pathological lesions in particular parts of the brain give rise, by the irritation which they keep up, to epileptiform convulsions of the whole of one side, or of the arm, or leg, or the muscles of the face; and, from studying the way in which these convulsions show themselves, he was able to localize very accurately the seat of the lesion.

The great difficulty in the study of the function of the brain has been, in the want of a proper method. When we study the function of a nerve, we make our experiments in two ways: In the first place, we irritate the nerve by scratching or by electricity, or by chemical action, and observe the effect; and, in the second place, we cut the nerve, and observe what is lost. In regard to the brain and nervous system, the method has been almost entirely, until recently, the method of section. It has been stated by physiologists that it is impossible to excite the brain into action by any stimulus that may be applied to it, even that of an electric current; they have, therefore, adopted the method of destroying parts of the brain. This method is liable to many fallacies. The brain is such a complex organ, that to destroy one part is necessarily to destroy many other parts, and the phenomena are so complex, that one cannot attribute their loss to the failure only of the parts which the physiologists have attempted to destroy.

About three years ago, two German physiologists, Fritsch and Hitzig, by passing galvanic currents through parts of the brains of dogs, obtained various movements of the limbs, such as adduction, flexion, and extension. They thus discovered an important method of research, but they did not pursue their experiments to the extent that they might have done, and perhaps did not exactly appreciate the significance of the facts at which they had arrived.

I was led to the experiments which I shall have to explain, by the effects of epilepsy and of chorea, which have been explained to depend upon irritation of parts of the brain. I endeavored to imitate the effects of disease on the lower animals, and determined to adopt the plan of stimulating the parts of the brain by electricity, after the manner described by Fritsch and Hitzig.

I operated on nearly a hundred animals of all classes—fish, frogs, fowls, pigeons, rats, Guinea-pigs, rabbits, cats, dogs, jackals, and monkeys. The plan was to remove the skull, and keep the animal in a state of comparative insensibility by chloroform. So little was the operation felt, that I have known a monkey, with one side of the skull removed, awake out of the state induced by the chloroform, and proceed to catch fleas, or eat bread-and-butter. When the animal was exhausted, I sometimes gave it a little refreshment, which it took in the midst of the experiments.

First, as to the experiments on cats, I found that, on applying the electrode to a portion of the superior external convolution, the animal lifted its shoulder and paw (on the opposite side to that stimulated) as if about to walk forward; stimulating other parts of the same convolution, it brought the paw suddenly back, or put out its foot as if to grasp something, or brought forward its hind-leg as if about to walk, or held back its head as if astonished, or turned it on one side as if looking at something, according to the particular part stimulated. The actions produced by stimulating the various parts of the middle external convolution were, a drawing up of the side of the face, a backward movement of the whiskers, a turning of the head, and a contraction of the pupil, respectively. A similar treatment of the lower external convolution produced certain movements of the angles of the mouth; the animal opened the mouth widely, moved its tongue, and uttered loud cries, or mewed in a lively way, sometimes starting up and lashing its tail as if in a furious rage. The stimulation of one part of this convolution caused the animal to screw up its nostrils on the same side; and, curiously enough, it is that part which gives off a nerve to the nostril of the same side.

Results much of the same character were produced by the stimulation of the corresponding or homologous parts of the rat, the rabbit, and the monkey. Acting upon the anterior part of the ascending frontal convolution, the monkey was made to put forward its hand as if about to grasp. Stimulation of other portions acted upon the biceps, and produced a flexing of the forearm, or upon the zygomatic muscles. The part that appeared to be connected with the opening of the mouth and the movement of the tongue was homologous with the part affected in man in cases of aphasia. Stimulation of the middle temporo-sphenoidal convolution produced no results; but the lower temporo-sphenoidal, when acted upon, caused the monkey to shut its nostrils. No result was obtained in connection with the occipital lobes.

These experiments have an important bearing upon the diagnosis in certain kinds of cerebral disease, and the exact localization of the parts affected. I was able to produce epileptic convulsions of all kinds in the animals experimented upon, as well as phenomena resembling those of chorea or St. Vitus's dance. The experiments are also important anatomically, as indicating points of great significance in reference to the homology of the brain in lower animals and in man, and likewise served to explain some curious forms of expression common to man and the lower animals. The common tendency, when any strong exertion is made with the right hand, to retract the angle of the mouth and open the mouth on the same side, had been stated by Oken, in his "Natur-geschichte" to be due to the homology between the upper limbs and the upper jaw; the true explanation being that the movements of the fist and of the mouth are in such close relation to each other that, when one is made to act powerfully, the impression diffuses itself to the neighboring part of the brain, and the two act together.

The experiments have likewise a physiological significance. There is reason to believe that, when the different parts of the brain are stimulated, ideas are excited in the animals experimented upon, but it is difficult to say what the ideas are. There is, no doubt, a close relation between certain muscular movements and certain ideas, which may prove capable of explanation. This is supported by the phenomena of epileptic insanity. The most important guide on the psychological aspect of the question is the disease known as aphasia. The part of the brain which is the seat of the memory of words is that which governs the movements of the mouth and the tongue. In aphasia, the disease is generally on the left side of the brain, in the posterior part of the inferior frontal convolution, and it is generally associated with paralysis of the right hand, and the reason might be supposed to be that the part of the brain affected is nearly related to the part governing the movements of the right hand.

It is essential to remember that the movements of the mouth are governed bi-laterally from each hemisphere. The brain is symmetrical, and I hold it to be a mistake to suppose that the faculty of speech is localized on the left side of the brain. The reason why an individual loses his speech when the left side of the brain is diseased is simply this: Most persons are right-handed, and therefore left-brained, the left side of the brain governing the right side of the body. Men naturally seize a thing with the right hand, they naturally therefore use rather the left side of the brain than the right, and when there is disease, there the individual feels like one who has suddenly lost the use of his right arm.

I may, finally, briefly allude to the results of stimulating the different ganglia. Stimulation of the corpora striata causes the limbs to be flexed; the optic thalami produces no result: the corpora quadrigemina produce, when the anterior tubercles are acted upon, an intense dilatation of the pupil, and a tendency to draw back the head and extend the limbs as in opisthotonos; while the stimulation of the posterior tubercles leads to the production of all kinds of noises. By stimulating the cerebellum, various movements of the eyeballs are produced.—Nature.

  1. A paper read before the Biological Section of the British Association.