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Edinger, Ludwig


(b. Worms, Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, 13 April 1855, d. January 1918) internal medicine, neurology, neuroanatomy, brain research.

Edinger is one of the world pioneers of neuroscience, and one of the founders of comparative neuroanatomy. He dealt particularly with the relations between brain anatomy and brain functions in vertebrates. Because of his detailed knowledge of the macroscopic and microscopic anatomy of the brain of various vertebrate species and his studies of animal behavior of these same species, he was able to relate structures of the brain to its functions in various species, such as fishes, amphibians, reptiles, frogs and dogs. His revised nomenclature of the vertebrate brain is valid even in the early twenty-first century.

Edinger was born on 13 April 1885 in Worms, a small city along the Rhine River near Frankfurt am Main. His father, Marcus Edinger (1820–1879), was a well-known Jewish democratic member of the Worms parliament; his mother, Julie Hochstätter Edinger (1829– 1893), was the daughter of a physician. Ludwig Edinger grew up in Worms, and studied medicine in Strasbourg and Heidelberg. Edinger earned his Medicine Doctor (M.D.) in 1878 at the University of Heidelberg. He was nominated university lecturer of internal medicine in (Privatdozent) in 1881 at the University of Giessen. Faced with marked anti-Semitism there, he decided not to continue his scientific career but settled in Frankfurt am Main in 1883 as a physician specializing in internal medicine and neurology. He soon became one of the first specialists of neurology in Germany. In 1886, Edinger married Anna Goldschmidt in Frankfurt. They had two children, Tilly and Fritz.

During the following years, Edinger began to study the anatomy of brains, beginning with the brains of animals, including fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals, as well as fetal human brains. He compared the macroscopic form and internal structure of these brains and thus became one of the founders of comparative neuroanatomy. At the request of his colleagues in Frankfurt, he presented these studies in lectures before the association of local physicians. The lectures were highly successful, and they were published, for the first time in 1885 and thereafter in eleven reprints (“Vorlesungen über den Bau der nervösen Zentralorgane”).

From the beginning, Edinger tried to relate the form and structure of brains to the functional capabilities of the relevant animals and of humans. Therefore, he made efforts to study the psychology and behavior of animals. He studied the form, structure, and function of the brain in many species. Edinger found that the lower parts of the brain (brain stem) in all vertebrates have a similar structure and are responsible for elementary, life-supporting functions such as respiration, blood pressure, hunger, and thirst, whereas the higher parts of the brain (diencephalon, telencephalon) are built very differently depending on the abilities of the relevant species, e.g. their olfactory, visual and acoustic perception, motor functions, recognition and memory. He was wise enough, however, not to extend these comparative studies of structure and function to the cerebral cortex of humans, rightly claiming that methods to investigate the finer structure of this part of the brain were not yet available.

In 1885, Edinger arranged for his friend, anatomist Carl Weigert (1845–1904) to become head of the renowned Senckenberg Institute of Anatomy in Frankfurt. In return, Weigert offered Edinger a room at the institute in 1902. This arrangement is considered to be the genesis of the Institute of Neurology in Frankfurt, later named the Edinger Institute. A fruitful cooperation between Edinger and Weigert followed, which lasted until Weigert’s death in 1904. Guests and scientists from all parts of the world visited Edinger’s laboratory to study the brain during that period. In 1907, Edinger moved to the newly built Institute of Pathology, where the entire second floor was offered to him for his institute, which was divided into a neuranatomy and neuropathology department. Financial support of the institute was provided exclusively by Edinger himself. In addition, Edinger founded, together with colleagues, a clinical department of neurology at the Frankfurter Poliklinik für Nervenkranke, where indigent patients suffering from neurological diseases were treated free of charge.

The main result of Edinger’s comparative anatomical studies was the establishment of an inferior part of the brain consisting mainly of the diencephalon, mesencephalon, metencephalon, and medulla oblongata, which showed, in all species investigated, nearly the same form and internal structure and which is responsible for vital functions such as respiration, circulation, motivation, and awareness; he called this the brain’s “own” or “proper” apparatus (Eigenapparat). In contrast, the telencephalon was found to display significant evolutionary variation. Edinger divided the telencephalon into older parts, designated the archipallium (with the archicortex), consisting mainly of the hippocampus, amygdala, and olfactory brain; and the neopallium (with the neocortex), consisting of all other cortical regions and their appropriate fiber bundles, bearing the end points of tactile, optic, and auditory pathways and the starting point of motor fibers. The neopallium increased markedly in size during evolution, depending on evolutionary requirements, according to Charles Darwin’s theory. In his autobiography, Mein Lebensgang (published in 2005 on the occasion of his 150th birthday), Edinger describes the day when he detected the first traces of neocortex in the lizard brain as the happiest day of his scientific life. (“Das war der glücklichste Tag meines wissenschaftlichen Lebens.”) The terms archicortex and neocortex were rapidly and widely integrated into the nomenclature of brain anatomy, but Edinger’s authorship of these names has been nearly forgotten.

During the following years, Edinger, using the myelin staining techniques of Franz Nissl, Camillo Golgi, and especially Carl Weigert, detected many hitherto unknown brain structures, for example, the medial forebrain bundle joining the mesencephalon and the diencephalon. He found that, in the human brain, the termination of the spinal tractus spino-thalamicus (responsible for the perception of pain and temperature) was in the thalamus, instead of the cerebellum, as stated in contemporary textbooks. At the same time, Edinger recommended to the international conference Nomina Anatomica in Basel in 1899 that the fiber bundles of the human brain should not be named after the discoverer, as had been customary until that time, but by the anatomical starting and end points. The conference agreed, and this practice remained in place.

Edinger also described the exact location of the autonomous part of the mesencephalic oculomotor nucleus (which became known as the Edinger-Westphal-nucleus). He made high-quality histologic drawings of all his subjects of analysis, which are collected and stored at the Institute of Neurology in Frankfurt. In addition, a large macroscopic collection of animal brains, called the Edinger Collection, is carefully preserved there. Moreover, the archive of the institute possesses copies and originals of approximately four hundred letters Edinger received from friends and pupils from all over the world.

When the University of Frankfurt am Main was founded in 1914 by the king of Prussia, who was responsible at that time for the district of Frankfurt, Edinger’s Institute of Neurology was integrated into the university as one of the twelve constituting institutes and clinics. At the same time Edinger was nominated professor of neurology. He extended his anatomical studies to the patho-morphology of human diseases, especially degenerative and infectious diseases, such as Friedreich’s ataxia, Tabes dorsalis, and neuritis, as well as brain tumors. He also verified that increase and misuse of function, in connection with genetic factors, could contribute to the origin of neurological diseases, by exhausting energy for the relevant anatomical structure. These studies were published under the title “Edinger’s energy exhausting theory” of neurological diseases (“Aufbrauchtheorie,” 1904).

During World War I, Edinger, in his characteristic attitude of helping whenever possible, changed his focus of study to the trauma of the peripheral nerves found in soldiers returning from battles. He studied the methods for rejoining, reparation, and regeneration of nerves, and learned that precise adaptation of the proximal and distal stumps of transsected peripheral nerves is of paramount significance for the following regeneration. He published the results of these studies in several papers in 1916 and 1917 and presented a review of this topic in 1917, one year before his death, at the Annual Meeting of Neurologists in Bonn.

Ludwig Edinger died in his Frankfurt home on 26 January 1918 from heart failure following surgery for prostate cancer. His brain anatomy was examined and published by his pupils W. Riese and K. Goldstein, with emphasis on Edinger’s mental ability and his left-handedness. Edinger is buried in the central cemetery in Frankfurt am Main.

Edinger’s successor as director of his institute was his pupil Kurt Goldstein, who emigrated to the United States before the period of the Nazi regime and was later known as one of the pioneers of neuropsychology and neurolinguistics. Edinger’s daughter, Tilly Edinger, emigrated to England and became known as the founder of paleoneurology. In the early 2000s Edinger’s Institute of Neurology remained part of the University of Frankfurt, specializing in research in neuropathology, neurocytology, and neuro-biology.



Zehn Vorklesunger über den Bau der nervösen Zentralorgane. Leipzig: F. C. W. Vogel, 1885.

“Verlust des Sprechvemögens und doppelseitige Hypoglossusprarese, bedlingt durch einen kleinen Herd im Zentrum semiovale.” Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift12 (1886): 232–235.

“Einiges vom Verlaufe der Gefühlsbahnen im zentralen Nervensystem.” Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift 16 (1890): 421–426.

“Eine neue Theorie über die Ursachen einiger Nervenkrankheiten, insbesondere der Neuritls und der Tabes.” In Vohmanns Sammlungen klinischer Vorträge, no. 106, Neue Folge (Innere Medizin Nr. 32) (1894): 87–116.

The Anatomy of the Central Nervous System of Man and of Vertebrates in General, 5th ed. Translated by Winfield S. Hall. Philadelphia and New York: F. A. Davis, 1896.

“Die Entwicklung der Gehirnbahnen in der Tierreihe.” Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift 22 (1896): 621–626.

Beiträge zur vergleichenden Anatomie des Gehims. Frankfurt am Main: Abhandlungen der Senckenbergischen Narurforschenden Gesellschaft, 1898.

“Himanatomie und Psychologie.” Berliner klinische Wochenscrift 37.56 (1900): 561–564.

Wie lange kann ein intracerebraler großer Tumor sympromtos getragen warden? Leyden-Festschrift Bd. 1. Berlin: Hirschwald, 1901.

Bericht über die Tängkeit der Frankfurter Poliklinik für Nervenkranke. Frankfurt am Main: Knauer, 1903.

“Die Aufbrauchkrankheiten des Nervensystems.” Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift 30 (1904): 1633–1636; 1800–1803; 1921–1924.

“Einiges vom ‘Gehirn’ des Amphioxus.” Anatomischer Anzeiger 26 (1907): 417–428.

“Bericht über das Dr. Senckenbergische Neurologische Institut 1885–1906.” Frankfurter Zeitschrift für Pathologie 1 (1907): 200–204.

Vorlesungen über den Bau der nervösen Zentralorgane des Menschen und der Tiere. Band 11: Vergleichende Anatomie des Gehims. 7. Auflage. Leipzig: F. C. W. Vogel, 1908a.

Der Antel der Funktion an der Entstehung von Nervenkrankheiten. Wiesbanden: J. F. Bergmann, 1908b.

“The Relations of Comparative Anatomy to Comparative Psychology.” Journal of Comparative Neurology and Psychology18 (1908c): 437–457.

Vorlesungen über den Bau der nervösen Zentralorgane des Menschen und der Tiere. Band 1: Das Zentralnervensystem. Leipzig: F. C.W. Vogel, 1911.

“Welche Bezeihungen bestehen zwischen dem Aufbau des Nervensystems und seiner Tätigkeit?” In his Einführung in die Lehre vom Bau und den Verrichtungen des Nervensystems, 2nd ed. Leipzig: F. C. W. Vogel, 1912.

With B. Fischer. “Ein Mensch ohne Großhim.” Archiv für die Gesamte Psychologie 152 (1913): 535–562.

“Wege und Ziele der Himforschung. Die interakademischen Himforschungsinstitute.” Naturwissenschaften 1 (1913): 441–444.

“Über die Regeneration durchschnittener Nerven.”Naturwissenschaften 4 (1916): 226–230.

“Über die Vereinigung getrennter Nerven. Grundsätzliches und Mitteilung eines neuen Verfahrens.” Münchener Medizinische Wochenschrift63 (1916): 225–228.

“Bericht über die Symptomatologie und Therapie der peripheren Lähmungen auf Grund der Kriegsbeobachtungen. IX: Jahresversammlung der Gesellschaft deutscher Nervenerzte. 1917 in Bonn.” Deutsche Zeitschrift für Nervenheilkunde59 (1917): 12–32.

“Untersuchungen über die Neubildung des durchtrennten Nerven.” Deutsche Zeitschrift für Nervenheilkunde 58 (1918): 1–32.

Gedenkschrift zu seinem 100. Geburtstag und zum 50-jährigen Bestehen des Neurologischen Instituts (Edinger Institut) der Universitst Frankfurt am Main und Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner, 1959.


Emisch, Heidemarie. Ludwig Edinger—Hirnanatomie und Psychologie. Leipzig: Gustav Fischer, 1991.

Goldstein, Kurt. “Ludwig Edinger (1855–1918).” Zeitschrift für Die Gesamte Neurologie und Psychiatrie 44 (1918): 114–149.

Kreft, Gerald. “The Work of Ludwig Edinger and His Neurology Institute.” In Neuroendocrinology: Retrospect and Perspectives, edited by H.-W. Korf and K.-H. Usdael. Berlin-Heidelberg: Springer, 1997.

———, and Wolfgang Schlote. “Ludwig Edinger (1855–1918)—Hirnforscher und Neurologie in Franfurt am Main.” In Festschrift zur 500. Versammlung der Frandfurter Medizinischen Gesellschaft, edited by H. W. Doer and H. W. Korf. Lamperdin: Alpha, 1995.

Riese, Walther, and Kurt Goldstein. “The Brain of Ludwig Edinger: An Inquiry into the Cerebral Morphology of Mental Ability and Lefthandedness.” Journal of Comparative Neurology 92 (April 1950): 133–168.

Schlote, Wolfgang, and Gerald Kreft. “Der zweckentfremdete Küchentisch—Ludwig Edinger und die Anfänge der Hirnforschung in Frankfurt.” Forschung Frankfurt 1, 46–59. Frankfurt am Main: Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, 1997.

Scholte, Wolfgang. “Ludwig Edinger (1855–1918)—Neurologe, frankfurter Arzt und Weltbürger.” In Die Frankfurter Gelehrtenrepublik, Neue Folge. Idstein: Schulz-Kirchner, 2002.

Wolfgang Schlote

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