Jean-Martin Charcot Diagnoses Multiple Sclerosis

The French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–1893) was the first person to recognize multiple sclerosis as a distinct disease in 1868.

Summarizing previous reports and adding his own clinical and pathological observations, Charcot called the disease sclerose en plaques. The three signs of MS now known as Charcot's triad 1 are nystagmus, intention tremor, and telegraphic speech, though these are not unique to MS. Charcot also observed cognition changes, describing his patients as having a "marked enfeeblement of the memory" and "conceptions that formed slowly".

Then, in 1868, Jean-Martin Charcot, a professor of neurology at the University of Paris, who has been called "the father of neurology", carefully examined a young woman with a tremor of a sort he had never seen before. He noted her other neurological problems including slurred speech and abnormal eye movements, and compared them to those of other patients he had seen. When she died, he examined her brain and found the characteristic scars or "plaques" of MS.

Dr. Charcot wrote a complete description of the disease and the changes in the brain which accompany it. However, he was baffled by its cause and frustrated by its resistance to all of his treatments. They included electrical stimulation and strychnine-because this poison is a nerve stimulant. He also tried injections of gold and silver, as they were somewhat helpful in the other major nerve disorder common at that time-syphilis.

Jean-Martin Charcot was an eminent 19th century French neurologist who worked at the Salpêtrière hospital, Paris. Without doubt, Charcot was one of the most important characters in the history of MS, his findings representing a huge breakthrough for the clinical understanding of the disease.

Charcot was the first to make definite links between the hitherto mysterious symptomatology, now known to be MS, and the pathological changes seen in post-mortem samples. For the first time, almost forty years after the discovery of the lesions, the clinical condition was described by Charcot as 'sclérose en plaques' and MS as recognised as a distinct disease entity.